Posts Tagged 4th grade

They Make A Village

4th grade Chumash coastal scene

4th grade Chumash coastal scene

Dropping in on Will Schaer’s 4th grade class these days, you’ll find students hard at work on their latest California history project. Groups of four to five students are scattered throughout the room—some are working with clay and straw, others with paint and sand. Their collective task: construct a scale-model scene of an indigenous Chumash coastal village.

Will's students work on their scene

Will’s students work on their scene

By design, the Wildwood Life Skills are embedded in the work. Each group needs to reach consensus on their design, materials, and presentation. “It’s a very collaborative process,” Will tells me, “Each group gets a foam core base and an assignment to design and construct one of four scenes.” “When they’re all done,” Will adds, “we’ll put them together to form our own Chumash village.”

A survey of the works in progress shows a range of approaches. One group is building miniature ops, the typical round Chumash-style dwelling—using sticks, clay and straw. Another group is carefully creating a coastal scene, smearing blue and yellow clay on their foam core to represent the sea and sand, respectively.

Will's students show off their work

Will’s students show off their work

A group in the corner, tasked with illustrating a variety of Chumash children’s games, has a couple of ideas in the works. One intriguing example is explained by 4th grader Eli M.: “It’s called ‘kill the bunny,'” he shares. Turns out, the name is much more harrowing than the actual game. “It was the Chumash version of bowling,” he reveals. “They rolled a rock to knock down wooden ‘bunnies.'” His group mates show me their plans to depict other games—a Chumash version of kickball and ‘hoop and pole,’ a target game.

At a round table in another corner, a group of five students have filled their foam core base with pencil sketches, and they are considering various printed and illustrated handouts. Fourth grader, Ella K., talks her group through some ideas on how to build a key element of their scene—a ceremonial fire. “We can use the red clay for the flames,” she says, “and some pebbles to show the fire pit.” She shares with me some of the photos the group is using to guide their design, from a book the class read on the Chumash.

Will’s 4th graders will work a few more days before their scenes are assembled into the full Chumash village. Throughout the process, these students will continue to practice the Life Skills embedded in every successful collaboration with peers—flexibility, perseverance, and problem solving.  Expecting students to approach, analyze and innovate together is a way of making the content more meaningful and memorable. For Wildwood students, this collaborative way of working is introduced casually, learned and reinforced daily, and becomes a lifelong habit.

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

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IMG_0905One of the rites of spring at Wildwood’s elementary campus is a real California adventure.

Each year, science teachers Christie Carter and Anna Boucher team up with Wildwood’s 4th grade teachers and give students a chance to make some authentic discoveries in the spirit of Gold Rush prospectors.

Panning for gold

Panning for gold

The goal: re-create that moment of discovery in California history when James. W. Marshall first struck gold at Sutter’s Mill, while reinforcing some of the essential principles of earth science that students study this year.

On the day of my visit, students from 4th grade teacher Colleen McGee’s class are searching for pay dirt: panning, sluicing, and looking through a magnifying scope as they try out different techniques to find gold in their own cup.

Sieving pay dirt

Examining sifted pay dirt

And this pay dirt is real. Wildwood 4th grade teacher Will Shaer has a passion for California history and started purchasing it for Wildwood several years ago from real miners up in California’s Gold Country, northeast of Sacramento.

“The trace amounts of gold in the dirt tested to a purity of 22 karats, which is pretty high,” Will tells me. Getting more California pay dirt from the miners has become more difficult, however, due to new and prohibitive dredging regulations. So, anything that the kids find today will be recycled back into the pay dirt, which will be re-used by future classes.

Science teacher Anna gives the students some brief demonstrations at each station, while her teaching partner Christie hands each student their own cup filled with the dirt. The kids work in small groups and try their hand at striking it rich.

Looking through a scope to find gold

Looking through the scope for gold

It turns out that there’s gold and silver in them thar cups. Soon, the science classroom resounds with shouts of “Eureka!” as students make their discoveries.

But it turns out that all that glitters is not gold (or silver). The pay dirt is also replete with pyrite, better known as fool’s gold—an eventuality for which Anna and Christie prepare their students. “If it looks like gold but it crumbles when you poke it with your tweezers, then it’s pyrite,” Anna tells her students.

The day's haul

The day’s haul

An occasional disappointment with finding fool’s gold is no match, however, for the pure joy that overwhelms students when they find the real thing (check out the videos below for a taste of their discoveries).

And what about the gold and silver that they find? Well, these students happily practice the Life Skill of Flexibility—they turn in anything they find to Anna and Christie for them to use for next year’s students.  And with gold prices at record highs, today’s student haul would fetch well over $100.

For Wildwood 4th graders, this classroom experience is golden.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning <a href=”″><img src=”“></img></a><a href=””></a&gt;

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Discovering California History

Colleen McGee’s morning message to her 4th grade class set the stage for the day’s social studies lesson: “Good morning, Rancheros!”  Today, Colleen, along with associate teacher Carolyn Peralta, will lead their 4th graders through a persuasive writing exercise set in early 19th Century California- Mexican California, that is.  Their students will be writing letters to the Mexican Governor of Alta California, so that he may grant them a rancho, a tract of land on which to raise cattle, crops and a family.

Colleen McGee and her students generate ideas before writing

To get them started, McGee generates some guidelines along with her students for their written petitions.  Students agree that, in order to get their rancho, they need to explain to the Governor where their desired land is located, along with why they feel that they deserve the land. “And finally,” McGee tells her students, “don’t forget to flatter the Governor.” Fourth grader Jude M. raises her hand and asks, “Does that mean we should butter him up?”  “Exactly,” says McGee.

Mission mosaic

For 4th graders across the state, studying California history is a right of passage.  Likewise, Wildwood 4th graders investigate state history from the arrival of the first aboriginal settlers, through the Spanish conquest and mission period, up to the Gold Rush and Chinese immigration. At Wildwood, however, the study of California history is lively, insightful, and inter-disciplinary.  For example, Colleen’s students enhance their artistic skills by designing and constructing mosaics to portray the various Spanish missions.

Christian B. and Chloe S. craft their petitions

What’s more, all Wildwood students hone their writing skills while studying state history.  “Most of our social studies curriculum is writing-based,” says McGee.  In addition to persuasive writing, Wildwood 4th graders infuse their California history studies with short story writing, poetry, and journalism.  All of this culminates in the “Voices of the West” project, where students create a portfolio of their best work set against the backdrop of California’s past. 

Jude M. contemplates her rancho

As McGee’s students settle into their writing, I check on their progress. Some of the students tell me the names of their ranchos. “Mine’s called Rancho Garcia Dominguez,” says Ryan B. “I’ve called mine Rancho Santa Margarita,” says Christian B., “because I know that there actually was one.”

The other students also work intently, crafting their arguments and imagining their lives in old California, all the while, perfecting their writing skills. If I were governor, I’d be greatly impressed and persuaded. And I’m sure that I’d grant them all their ranchos.

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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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