Posts Tagged christie carter


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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Lab Results: Positive

IMG_0465Last week when Wildwood 3rd graders arrived at the middle and upper campus for some relatively sophisticated scientific lab action, their 6th grade hosts were ready and waiting with a carefully prepared agenda: Get acquainted, have fun, and teach something new by demonstrating what 6th graders are learning.

The visit illuminated ways that Wildwood students learn from each other, in a variety of contexts throughout the year.

6th grader Maxwell H. (left) and 3rd grade buddy Carter F. dissect a lilly

6th grader Maxwell H. (left) and 3rd grade buddy Carter F. dissect a lilly

On this day, students first explored a few icebreaking questions, focused largely on favorite foods and family, before moving swiftly on to the harder science.

Inside the labs, the students rotated among four learning stations:

  • The science of sound waves under the guidance of upper school physics teachers Levi Simons and Andrew Lappin,
  • How to make “snow” out of a polymer and water with upper school biology teachers Carolyne Yu and Joma Jenkins,
  • Instruction in creating “oobleck,” a slithery, viscous mix of cornstarch and water that has properties of both a liquid and a solid with middle school science teacher Jane Kaufman, and
  • Buddy pairs of 3rd and 6th graders cut up and examine a large lily bloom on a wax-coated dissection tray under the guidance of middle school science teachers Katie Boye and Deborah Orlik.
6th grader Alfie W. (right) and 3rd grader Kayden M. make "oobleck" out of corn starch and water

6th grader Alfie W. (right) and 3rd grader Kayden M. make “oobleck” out of corn starch and water

At that last station, the 6th graders thoughtfully showcase the various parts of the plant, gently quizzing their younger companions on the purpose of each part. “And what do the veins in the leaves do for the plant?” Reid B. asks his buddy, 3rd grader Jacob G., who responds: “They carry nutrients through the plant.” Reid compliments Jacob brightly, “That’s right!” (See Reid and Jacob’s interaction in the video below.)

The science exchange visit was conceived by Katie Boye and her elementary science colleagues, Anna Boucher and Christie Carter.  “We realized that our kids both study units on plants,” said Katie,  “so we planned to have these lessons coincide in the middle of this year. It just seemed natural for us to then bring our kids together to have them share what they’d learned.”

6th grader Ali B. (right) and 3rd grade buddy Sydney K. look together at a lilly's inner workings

6th grader Ali B. (right) and 3rd grade buddy Sydney K. look together at a lilly’s inner workings

As they left their rotation making “oobleck,” Reid B. echoes Katie’s plan for the visit: “We’ve taught them a lot today,” he says. For 3rd grader Carter F. the day was also about having fun: “We got so messy! Just look at my hands!” he says as he shows off the small globs of cornstarch and water still caked on his fingernails.

6th grader Niki L. (left) and 3rd grade buddy Ian N. smile for the camera

6th grader Niki L. (left) and 3rd grade buddy Ian N.

On this day, the science mattered, but for Wildwood’s 6th graders, the day also offered an important range of opportunities to practice and gain fluency in learning, and teaching. As the explainers-in-charge, the 6th graders actively reinforced their own learning while introducing some cool new science to their 3rd grade peers.  The lab results really were positive.

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

(Below) 6th grader Reid B. shares his knowledge of plants with 3rd grade buddy Jacob G.

(Below) 3rd and 6th grade buddies make and play with “snow” made from sodium polyacrylate and water

(Below) 9th grade physics teacher, Andrew Lappin, explains the physics of sound waves

(Below) Sound waves vibrate reflected laser lights, creating a visual delight

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Good Question!

This week’s blog highlights a different kind of Wildwood classroom— one where teachers learn.  On Monday and Tuesday of this week, six Wildwood faculty, and dozens of other teachers from across California and around the country came together at the Elementary campus for a cutting edge two-day training facilitated by the Boston-based Right Question Institute in partnership with Wildwood.

Wildwood K-5 science teacher Christie Carter (standing) facilitates some question-asking in her discussion group at RQI’s Wildwood-hosted training

Wildwood is here for students, but we have a strong belief that we are also here for teachers. Wildwood School is widely recognized in Los Angeles, around the country, and, increasingly, around the world as a hub of educational innovation and best practice. The Wildwood Outreach Center is always on the lookout for partners equipped to help us bring new best practices to Wildwood teachers, as well as others—in both public and other independent schools.  Our partners’ missions always intersect with Wildwood’s philosophy of progressive, student-centered, college prep education.

Wildwood 4th grade teacher Will Schaer (standing) and Division Three science teacher Andrew Lappin practice the QFT with their group

The Right Question Institute with their groundbreaking book published by Harvard Education Press, Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, is an ideal Wildwood partner. Their central idea is simple and smart: Instead of only teachers asking the questions that prod students to think and learn, RQI helps teachers learn a structured protocol to help students come up with the questions that will stimulate their own learning.

Authors and education advocates, Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, call the protocol the Question Formulation Technique, or QFT for short. The Right Question Institute’s research shows that using the QFT helps students think more critically, write more persuasive essays, deepen mathematical understanding, design better science experiments and conduct independent research and learning projects.

Division Two humanities teacher Lauren Sekula contemplates her group’s questions during a QFT practice session

The QTF can work in any discipline and with kids at every grade level.  It’s a good way to establish new patterns of inquiry and re-direct students who are simply looking for the “right” answer.

Here’s an example.  A science teacher who usually opens a discussion with a question, such as: “How does pollution affect residents of Los Angeles?” can instead generate what is called a Question Focus—usually a statement designed to generate questions and deeper thinking. Here the Question Focus might be, “Pollution affects residents of Los Angeles.”  The teacher then guides the students through the Question Formulation Technique. First, groups of students generate as many questions as they can about the Question Focus, e.g., “What kind of pollution affects LA residents?”, “Does pollution affect people differently in different parts of LA?”, “How are the effects of pollution measured?”  Through this kind of question generation, students are able to take their conversations beyond the superficial answers a teacher-generated question might prompt. Building on this basic technique, the Question Focus encourages students to go deeper.

Alexis Lessans, one of the Wildwood faculty involved in the two-day workshop says, “The QFT fits seamlessly,” into her Division One Humanities classroom, “because our approach is fundamentally student, not teacher, driven.”

Andrew Lappin (left) records his group’s questions

Elementary science teacher Christie Carter and 4th grade teacher Will Schaer, Division Two humanities teacher Lauren Sekula, Division Three science teacher Andrew Lappin, and middle & upper school Head Librarian Michelle Simon also took part in the training. In a field of over 30 educators, many from other independent schools in Los Angeles, these Wildwood teachers stepped into volunteer and leadership roles within their small work groups, sharing their work with Wildwood students and ideas for implementing the QFT in their classrooms.

“Young kids, even our Pod students, are so naturally curious at Wildwood,” Christie Carter tells me. “I can see how my teaching partner [science teacher Anna Boucher] and I will use this training with our students.”

4th grade teacher Will Schaer made his intentions very clear, telling the entire group at the end of the second day, “I’ll be using this tomorrow in my students’ social studies lesson.”

Middle & Upper campus Head Librarian (left) and Division One humanities teacher Alexis Lessans lead their small group in its work

Wildwood teachers are proud to be learners, and training opportunities like this give our faculty a chance to stay students. In sharpening their practice, it’s our students’ learning that ultimately benefits.

For over a decade The Wildwood Outreach Center has trained hundreds of educators locally, nationally, and internationally in the research-based best practices that our teachers employ everyday, like project-based learning, advisory, the Life Skills, and Habits of Mind and Heart. The work is of significance internally and externally, and informs the Wildwood approach at home and in schools we work with.

Throughout the two-day workshop, I had a strong sense that when I asked the Right Question Institute to make Wildwood its first West Coast venue for their training, an important relationship was born.

Good question, good outcome.

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

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Think like a scientist

Things are not always what they seem in the world of science. That was the lesson on Tuesday in Anna Boucher and Christie Carter’s 3rd grade science class. The day marked the conclusion of a two-month experiment that sought to answer the question, “Will Wildwood’s soil grow healthy plants?” The answer, kids discovered, was not a simple “yes” or “no.”

Back in September, students planted three of the new garden beds with broccoli seedlings. One bed used Wildwood soil; another had a mix of Wildwood soil and Bumper Crop, a soil amendment product; and the third combined Wildwood soil and organic fertilizer. Like good scientists, students put forth several hypotheses as they pondered which planter would produce the healthiest plants. They observed and measured the seedlings, then entered the data into Google Docs.

Students converted the data from their broccoli experiment into bar graphs.

In the weeks that followed, each student had a specific job associated with the care of the seedlings. They watched the plants grow and made more observations. Last week, it was time to take final measures. They counted leaves and measured stalks. More data was entered into Google Docs.

Now it was time to draw a conclusion.

Anna handed out their data. According to the bar graphs, the planter that had organic fertilizer had the biggest, leafiest plants by far. Anna asked students why they thought that was the case, and five hands shot up.

Third graders debate the reasons why one planter box yielded healthier plants than the others.

“Maybe it was better soil,” answered one boy, and other kids voiced their agreement.

But wait, Anna said. “See if you can be really smart scientists,” she challenged the class. “Do we know for sure that it was just the soil that made those plants healthy?”

Brows furrowed. “Maybe there was more shade,” said one boy.”

Yes, Anna said, sunlight could impact growth. But she pushed them to keep thinking. One girl noticed there was another plant in the box with the broccoli. Hmmm. Maybe that had something to do with it?

Anna agreed. The plant was a marigold, which is a natural bug deterrent.

“We know that the Wildwood soil is OK for plants, because we were able to grow our broccoli,” Anna told the class. “And we know that the plants in planter C were even bigger. Is it the fertilizer? Is it the sun? Is it the marigold?”

Puzzled faces stared back at her.

“There’s only one way to find out,” she said. “We need to do another experiment.”

Ah, the work of a scientist is never done.

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