Posts Tagged 2nd grade

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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All Systems Go

Systems ThinkersSarah Simon’s 2nd grade class is in the midst of reading Charlotte’s Web and talking about all of the things that go on in the barn at Zuckerman’s farm. Turns out, the story is very fertile ground for systems thinking. And it’s a perfect opportunity to see and hear why students are so invested in this exciting new way to learn.

Walking around the room, I see students seated at their table groups with 4 or 5 of their peers.  Each works on a large piece of poster paper— on them I see some drawings and cut-out photos but mostly I see that students’ posters are full of circled words, connected to others by lines, like ideas on a web diagram.

Marco R. shows off his systems map

Marco R. shows off his systems map

“This is my systems map,” Marco R. tells me, “It’s about the animal system on Zuckerman’s Farm in Charlotte’s Web.”  I look closer to see how Marco has identified the various animals in the book—geese, cows, cats—and how their roles on the farm are interrelated.

Sarah and Associate Teachers Jessica Collins and Molly Kirkpatrick gave kids their initial taste of systems thinking and systems maps on the first day of school. The teachers helped students identify all of the systems that make a classroom operate smoothly: the morning meeting system, the lining up system, the hand-raising system. “The kids learn to appreciate,” Sarah says, “how each system has its particular purpose and, working together, helps to make for a functional and efficient learning environment.”

Class systems in Sarah's Classroom

Class systems in Sarah’s Classroom

Since then, students in all three of Wildwood’s 2nd grade classes have been looking for systems everywhere.

Teacher Stefanie Grutman recently told me about an interesting request that her 2nd graders made: They wanted homework. “They’ve been so excited about finding systems,” Stefanie says, “that they all said they wanted to take the weekend to identify all the systems they notice outside of school.”  So her students eagerly brought their work home—uncovering all of the component parts and rules that govern the way our world and society work. Students identified plant systems, food systems, a sleep system, “even a system underlying the Hebrew alphabet,” Stefanie tells me.

I think about Stefanie’s students as I talk to more kids in Sarah’s class; I begin to understand better why systems thinking is so appealing to these 2nd graders.

Audrey S. and Laurel H. proudly share their systems maps

Audrey S. and Laurel H. proudly share their systems maps

“It’s fun to find connections,” says Laurel H. “Once you figure out one system, you find another one that connects to it,” she continues. “It never ends!”

I realize that systems thinking causes students to intently focus on the Life Skills of Curiosity and Organizing—through what educators would call divergent thinking.

A 2nd grader's home systems

A 2nd grader’s home systems

Divergent thinking is an essential component of creativity—finding relationships and connections between two seemingly disparate ideas can help train students to find novel solutions to complex problems. It also allows them to go deeper into any topic that they’re studying.

This really strikes a chord when I ask another student, Audrey S., why she likes making systems maps. “It lets you put together your own information book about a topic,” she says.

Systems maps in Stefanie's classroom

Systems maps in Stefanie’s classroom

Systems thinking validates the kinds of divergent thinking that kids naturally do as they seek to make sense of their world.

For Wildwood students, systems thinking reinforces these essential skills and provides foundational tools needed for navigating their increasingly complex worlds.

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

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More Than Meets The Eye

I’ve come to realize that in every Wildwood classroom I visit, there’s always more to what I see than I’m able to observe. For every lesson, project, and student conversation I watch, there’s context—those deep, invisible factors inform how our teachers instruct and what our students learn. At every grade level the curriculum is infused with progressive philosophical foundations.  Prior student work matters, too, but I can’t always see that either. All of this colors what I do see when I spend time in Wildwood’s classrooms.

My visit to Monique Marshall and Jessica Collins’s 2nd grade class this week reminded me to think about what I’m seeing, and what I can’t see in a single visit.

In today’s social studies lesson, Monique’s students are thinking about the concepts of food “deserts” and “oases” – urban places where healthy food sources are either scarce, or plentiful. Their task: design and construct 3D models depicting each. Monique tells me that the vast majority of her students live in areas of relative abundance—the food oases—and for them the alternative is hard to conceive.

2nd graders mix colors to paint tree trunks for their 3D models

2nd graders mix colors to paint tree trunks for their 3D models

“But their reality was really challenged,” Monique tells me, “when we did an activity a few months ago with our Central High buddies.” For the past several years, Monique’s classes have had a unique friendship with students from Central High School, a public continuation high school in Culver City. These older students, along with their teacher, spend time with Monique’s students both at Wildwood and on joint field trips. “During one of our Central High visits,” Monique continues, “we did an activity called ‘Agree or Disagree.’”

2nd graders build cars for their models out of recycled materials (l. to r., Toby M., Nnenne B., Truman L., Gibson P., and Will M.)

2nd graders build cars for their models out of recycled materials (l. to r., Toby M., Nnenne B., Truman L., Gibson P., and Will M.)

She asked everyone to respond to this prompt: ‘Agree or Disagree: In my neighborhood, I have access to plenty of fresh, organic produce.’  “All of the Wildwood kids agreed with the statement, while all of their Central High buddies, who live in food deserts, disagreed.”  That disconnect, Monique says, naturally led her students to wonder why, and added to today’s lesson’s deeper context.

Throughout the classroom I see Monique’s students working at five different stations busily creating vehicles, trees, signs, people, and gates for their models. Monique and I ask the students in the latter group to discuss their work. One boy says, “We learned that there are a lot of gates in front of the small stores they have in food deserts because the owners think that people are going to steal.” Monique asks how this might make the people in food deserts feel. “Really bad,” says a girl in the group, “like no one trusts them.” I ask them whether any of them feel that way at the stores in their neighborhoods. “No!” the students loudly exclaim in unison.

When social studies time ends, students put away their projects knowing that they’ll finish their 3D models next week; but their multi-layered work doesn’t end even then. “Our ultimate goal isn’t just to learn about food deserts and feel bad that they exist,” Monique says. “We want kids to know how they can take action.”

Students showing off their "gates" for the 3D models (l. to r., Vincent S., Ruby B., Louisa R., and Henry J.)

Students showing off their “gates” for the 3D models (l. to r., Vincent S., Ruby B., Louisa R., and Henry J.)

As a class, Monique’s students have agreed that they want to help inform people—in both their neighborhood, as well as the food deserts—what they can do to ensure equal access to healthy nutritious foods. “We’ve looked at who the community heroes are working to green Los Angeles, and alleviate the impact of food deserts—people like Ron Finley and his organization, LA Green Grounds.”

Next for Monique’s students? They plan to produce informational cards for the community around the elementary campus, informing neighbors about how people can seek out fresh, nutritious foods, and organizations dedicated to eradicating food deserts.  Then with the help of some parent volunteers, they may produce a public service video on how individuals and groups can work to alleviate the effects of food deserts in Los Angeles.

The opportunity to visit classrooms and report back to you on what goes on here is my privilege. But it’s good to remember that context and community drive this kind of learning. We bring the world in, to stimulate thinking—and re-thinking—in Wildwood classrooms.

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

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Acting out

Nothing puts Life Skills to the test like an elementary class performance. Kids have to practice responsibility, flexibility, problem-solving, and integrity – all within 30 minutes. And they have to do it in front of an audience.

On Wednesday, 2nd graders demonstrated their mastery of these Life Skills with a presentation of Aesop’s Fables, which they did for friends and family. Students acted out The Wind and the Sun, The Lion and the Mouse, The Town Mice and the Country Mice, and the classic Tortoise and the Hare.

In a mere six class sessions, students had learned the stories, created sets, learned about blocking and character, and rehearsed like a real drama troupe. The kids were fearless, and in addition to receiving a lesson on performance, they were clearly having fun. Here’s a quick look at the result of their efforts.

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Smooth like butter

You may not typically associate butter with high drama, but in Sarah Simon’s 2nd grade class, drama, butter, and honey seem to go hand-in-hand.

Drama #1: the disappearance of honey bees. This is what prompted the class to undertake a honey butter-making endeavor. They were sitting in their morning meeting not long ago when one student brought a concern to the group: Honeybees were in danger. They were disappearing because their hives were being damaged. Sarah challenged the group to think of something they could do to help.

Earlier in the year, the class read a story about a family in the early 1900s who didn’t have a local grocer they could go to for staples like butter. As part of the lesson, students learned to make butter. That was the kernel of the bee-saving idea. From there, it blossomed into a full-on honey butter manufacturing endeavor with a goal of raising money to buy bee hives from the Heifer Foundation, which supports families in developing countries.

Everyone was on board. Students began the project with some math. How much would they have to sell their product for in order to cover expenses for jars, cream, and tags–and still raise money? Using cognitively guided instruction (CGI), they developed a formula that yielded a $4 per jar price. Sara ordered the materials, and kids got to work.

Making butter requires a lot of muscle!

When I arrived to the class on Tuesday, the room smelled of honey and cream. Volunteer mom Paige Pomerance was on hand to help with the butter-making. Sari Wexler, another volunteer mom, came with her camera. She and a student crew were documenting the process via video.

Sari Wexler and her team of documentary film makers use iMovie to capture the honey-butter action.

The only thing missing were those old-fashioned butter churns. No worries, though. Students took turns shaking jars of cream until the butter separated from the liquid. This was not a task for the faint-hearted. I quickly learned (from experience) that you have to really give those jars a lot of muscle to achieve the goal. But shake they did, and butter they made.

As one team shook, another team made tags for the jars. Each tag features a “bee fact,” such as, “Bees do not have noses. [Their] sense of smell is located in the antennae.” Who knew? I’ll tell you who knew: Sara’s 2nd graders. They know everything about honey bees.

The classroom was, um, a hive of activity. In fact, they were so busy, they almost forgot about Drama #2: The lost money.

It happened earlier in the week. The class has been selling their honey butter in the mornings before class. Someone bought five jars with a $100 bill. Students counted the change, and everyone was happy. Until they noticed the $100 bill was gone.

There went profits. Which is why, on Tuesday, production had been ramped up. Way up. “We may even need to raise the price to meet our goal,” Sara said.

Sara is welcoming volunteers to jar and label the honey butter. She wants to have plenty of product ready for sale prior to tomorrow’s All School Meeting.

Fingers crossed that they have lots of jars on hand, because I can’t wait to get mine. I have some English muffins that are just crying out for Wildwood honey butter.

The fruit of their labor!

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On Food and Thanks

If I had to choose between eating pumpkin pie and attending the elementary students’ Thanksgiving All School Meeting, the All School Meeting would win hands-down. Today was my lucky day. I went to the meeting, then 3rd grade teacher Melanie Benefiel shared her pie. Double happiness.

All School meetings at the elementary campus bring every student – and lots of parents – together every week in the Commons where, as a community, we share songs, news, stories, and lessons kids have learned in their classrooms. The Thanksgiving All School Meeting is a particularly special event. Every child participates, and each class brings an “offering” to the school Thanksgiving table, which is set in the center of the room.

Jasmine K. and Milo M. lead the Thanksgiving All School Meeting.

This week’s leaders were 5th graders Jasmine J. and Milo M., and they ran the meeting with TEDtalk flair. They shared personal anecdotes about Thanksgiving—Jasmine helps her mom cook, and Milo enjoys his Bubbe’s matzo ball soup—and introduced the theme for the morning: chef and food advocate Alice Waters’ “Principles of Good Food and Eating.” Each grade presented what they learned about a specific principle:

  1. Eat locally and sustainably. Second graders advised the audience to “learn where your food comes from” and be aware of chemical fertilizers that “are not good for animals or people.” Vegetables and fruits make you healthy, and “organic means not people-made, but earth-made.” Students read the story Little Yellow Pear Tomatoes by Demian Elaine Yumei and contributed a copy of the book to the Thanksgiving table.
  2. Eat seasonally. “Eating seasonally gives you a sense of time and place,” a 3rd grader explained. Third graders talked about the field trip they took to a pumpkin farm, sang about pumpkin pie (holding handmade paper pumpkins that bounced to the beat) and presented a pumpkin pie to the Thanksgiving table.
  3. Shop at farmers’ markets. The Pods told everyone about their field trip to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, where they interviewed farmers and got to taste all kinds of fruits and vegetables. They brought back a bounty of produce to their class and offered a basket of farm-fresh goodies for the Thanksgiving table. “Food tastes better when it’s fresh and local,” a little Podster explained.
  4. Plant a garden. “It is deeply satisfying to eat food you’ve grown yourself,” a 5th grader told the audience. As part of their study of early American history, the 5th grade is growing a colonial herb garden in the new outdoor classroom.  Each student brought in a recipe from home that incorporates one of the herbs, and the class combined all of the recipes to create their own cookbook. A copy was placed on the Thanksgiving table.
  5. Cook together. Fourth graders brought a pot and ladle to the table to symbolize this simple idea, and each student shared an excerpt from a creative writing assignment in which they expressed the smells, tastes, sounds, and sensations of Thanksgiving: “sweet potatoes with sweet white marshmallow topping,” “the sounds of pans banging against each other as my family begins to cook,” “the bubbling and sizzling of bacon cooking,” and “the scent of cinnamon from the apple pie.” Hungry yet?
  6. Eat together. The Pods shared a video of their very own feast, which required that they use their math skills to calculate how many chairs and tables would be needed and where everyone would sit. They solved the problem and enjoyed a snack of veggie chips, carrots, and pretzels. “It was a really special meal, and our table was filled with joy!”
  7. Remember food is precious. Meeting leaders Milo and Jasmine presented this final principle. “Food should never be taken for granted,” Milo said. Jasmine told everyone to “remember those families who may not have all that we do.” The pair congratulated Wildwood for coming together for this year’s Thanksgiving Food Drive to contribute 56 bags of food and 18 gift cards to families from St. Joseph Center in Venice.

I know this blog post is long, but I have to close it with the Buddhist prayer that the kids recited this morning at All School Meeting:

“This food is the gift of the whole universe/each morsel is a sacrifice of life/may I be worthy to receive it./May the energy in this food/give me strength/to transform my unwholesome qualities/into wholesome qualities./I am grateful for this food/may I realize the path of awakening/for the sake of all beings.” Happy Thanksgiving.

Each grade presented an offering for the Thanksgiving table.


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