Posts Tagged elementary school

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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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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Getting The Wiggles Out — The Wildwood Way

This week I peeked in on an elementary classroom that made me wish I was a 3rd grader again.  Our elementary Physical Education team—Tyler Williams, Hasan Muhammad, and Darren Pasco—transformed The Commons into a massive indoor obstacle course. Students ran, hopped, rolled, and crawled their way through the elaborate set-up, all the while dodging soft fluff balls lobbed at them by their classmates.

Screaming with delight to the amplified sounds of kid-friendly dance music, our 3rd graders were having fun and practicing essential PE and life skills.

“The main point of the obstacle course,” says Tyler, “is to improve agility, balance and strength. It also provides an opportunity to revisit throwing techniques.”  Tyler says he and his colleagues carefully designed the course to require crawling and rolling, because “Crawling is a great full body strength building exercise, while rolling is a wonderful way for students to work on their balance.” While they’re having fun, this activity also gives students ample opportunities to practice the Life Skill of Cooperation, as the game requires one group of student retrievers to collect the fluff balls that were thrown on the course back into the buckets of their peers who were throwing them.

It’s not the same as being there, but check out the video clips below, and have some fun!

Special thanks to Tyler Williams for the great footage.

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

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“Blended” Learning

IMG_0381This Thursday night, Wildwood’s 5th grade students will exhibit their artwork to their families, friends, and teachers. The theme for their work is “identity” and the pieces are very personal—the subjects are the students themselves.

This week I spend time with a group of Wildwood 5th graders as they finalized their projects with visual arts teachers, Kendra Elstad, Kusum Nairi, and Michael Fujikawa. I also discover that these students’ work is all about blending; both the literal blending of colors, as well as the blending of two curricula—5th grade visual arts and language arts.

A 5th grade student tries out her skin tone color blend (photo courtesy of Kendra Elstad)

A 5th grade student tries out her skin tone color blend
(photo courtesy of Kendra Elstad)

For years, the visual arts teachers have collaborated with 5th grade language arts teachers Sandi Crozier and Leslie Troy to incorporate her curriculum’s theme of identity into student work. With Sandi and Leslie, students explore the theme through creative writing—both prose and poetry. In visual arts the students study and practice a variety of painting techniques, including color blending, tinting, and shading. The result: the students create a variety of pieces that represent their individual identities—what people can see on the outside, as well as what they can’t see on the inside.

“One of the first challenges we give the kids for this project,” Kendra explains, “is to blend colors to match what they see as their skin tone.” She says that there’s a science to color blending that really engages her students. “Some kids test their blend by putting a little on their hands until they create a match.” Then they paint a small canvas with their color blend.

5th grader Toochi B...

5th grader Toochi B.

... with his mask of green

… with his mask of green

A few days earlier, in language arts class, students get a head start on another piece for their exhibition, responding to a writing prompt: If you were to choose a color(s) that expressed you and/or how you feel on the inside, what would it(they) be? Why?  When they get to visual arts class, the students build masks out of cardboard or paper mache and paint them the colors they chose to write about. First, they paint with a base color and then, using their new color blending skills, add lighter colors to create a tint and darker colors to create a shade of their base.

... with his baby blue mask

… with his baby blue mask

5th grader Henry C. ....

5th grader Henry C.

During my visit, 5th grader Toochi B. shows me his mask; “green,” he tells, “with hints of gold.”  Toochi chose green as his base color because, he tells me, “it brightens up my world when I’m not feeling great.” Fellow 5th grader Henry C.’s mask is baby blue. Why?  “It represents peaceful, happy and fun all at the same time,” he shares. “I remember it from when I was little; it’s always been very soothing.”

Jude M.'s mask, skin tone canvas, and color writing

Jude M.’s mask, skin tone canvas, and color writing

Jude M.'s color writing

Jude M.’s color writing

While 5th grade classes have been doing this cross-disciplinary project for a few years, Sandi says “we like to take it in a different direction every year.”  For this year’s twist, Sandi shared with her visual arts colleagues the idea of having students write their responses to the color writing prompt on a clear transparency, which they then overlay on their skin tone canvas. “The idea,” Sandi explains, “is that if you could see through to the inside of a heart and mind, or see the color of emotions and feelings, what might you see?”

The answers, for this year’s 5th graders, are not only visually appealing, but also a very personal reflection of what makes our students unique—both inside and out.

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

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White House Confidential

IMG_0232Students in Sara Lev and Alli Newell’s Whale Pod returned for the New Year eager to further explore to a hot topic introduced before the break—the White House. Some of the important questions these kindergartners and 1st graders had: How many rooms does the White House have? Exactly how big is it? Does it have everything that the President needs to do his job?  Do the doors have any peepholes for the President to look out of?

The Whale Pod's White House replica

The Whale Pod’s White House replica

The work that inspired these, and even more student questions reflects the Wildwood Life Skill of Curiosity, and this week Sara and Alli’s students are also practicing the related Life Skill of Problem Solving as they seek ways to satisfy their curiosity.

Seated with the class on the rug, Sara shares photos and stories she gathered during a private tour of the White House’s West Wing that she took over winter break. The social studies discussion broadens when Whale Pod students Bowden E. and Max A., who also both recently visited the White House, shared their experiences with the class.

Max A. shares some fun facts about the White House with his classmates

Max A. shares some fun facts about the White House with his classmates

Curiosity about the White House grew directly from the Whale Pod’s year-long social studies theme of Homes and Habitats and was enhanced by the 2012 presidential campaign and election. “The kids were really inspired by the 5th grade’s school-wide mock election in November,” Sara tells me. “We began talking with the kids about the White House and Alli and I could tell that they were interested in learning more.”  Sara says the curiosity about the residence makes sense since, “The White House is one of the most famous homes in the world, so there is a genuine connection to our social studies theme.”

Whale Pod Student, Bowden C., shows a model of the White House to his classmates

Whale Pod Student, Bowden C., shows a model of the White House to his classmates

One expression of the Whale Pod’s deep interest is a replica of the White House they built with wooden blocks back in the fall. It’s an artifact that today sits in a key space on the floor at the far end of the classroom.  Max A., the project’s original architect, tells me what inspired him to begin, and his peers to join, building their version of the White House.  “We borrowed a model that the 5th graders had of the White House and I just started building it with the blocks one day during Explorations,” he says. “Then my other friends started to help me and add on to it.”  He points out the East and West Wings and the North Face, complete with its triangular pediment. “We came in early after morning drop-off to finish it.”

Our 42nd President, Bill Clinton, at home in the Whale Pod's White House

Our 42nd President, Bill Clinton, casually attired and at home in the Whale Pod’s White House

Back in the discussion, Sara guides students as they discover how to connect all of their questions to future learning. “So,” she asks, “how can we find answers to our questions about the White House?”

“We can read non-fiction books about the White House,” offers Bryce C., while Holden M. suggests that the class consult the Internet.  “We could write down our questions and send them to the White House,” offers Isaiah W. After students share other ideas, Nita K. suggests that the class could send their questions to President Obama, who could come visit the Whale Pod to answer them in person.  “Or,” Nita continues, “We can all go on a field trip.”  “To the White House?” Sara asks. Maybe not, Nita concedes, but then Sara suggests a trip to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, to help the students find some answers; the students are very excited by the prospect.

The Whale Pod’s study of the White House offers all of us in the Wildwood community of teachers and learners valuable insights into young children’s thinking and problem solving. Some of it might seem fanciful to us adults, but it fosters the deep learning we seek at Wildwood everyday.

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

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Democracy Starts Here

Just before the polls opened for voting Tuesday, the mood inside Jan Stallings’s class was one of anxious anticipation.  Her Wildwood 5th graders began preparing the Elementary campus for this momentous day back  in late September.

Fifth graders organize and run a mock election, and they’ve carefully designed their polling station for maximum efficiency. Several students monitor registration tables set up for each grade. They help voters sign in, and hand out ballots for President of the United States.  Other students observe the two voting booths set up to allow privacy.  Closer to the door, matching student-constructed boxes are ready for marked ballots. Near the exit, another group of 5th graders awaits voters with “I Voted” stickers for those who cast their ballots.

Fiftth grader Henry C. anticipates a smooth election. “Maybe some of the younger kids will draw on the ballots, or go right to get stickers before they vote,” he offers, “but other than that, I think that it will go alright.”  His classmates share his confidence.

The first voters, all students in Colleen McGee’s 4th grade class, line up outside of the room and file in two at a time and head to the registration tables. After casting their ballots and receiving stickers, I do some of my own exit polling with Colleen’s students.  “I voted for Barack Obama,” says 4th grader, Anushka H. “He’s been a good President.” Her classmate, Olivia L. concurs, adding, “He’s really smart and I hope that he wins.”  This early sample indicates that things look secure for the incumbent.

Wave after wave of enthusiastic students come through the polls, with Jan’s students ably assisting each voter and directing them through the process. Associate teacher, Linda Gordon, explains that months of prep helped the students understand the process. “We started by studying both Presidential candidates’ positions the issues and the Electoral College,” Linda tells me. Jan added, “We also emphasized the importance of ‘getting out the vote.’” Then students then had to prepare a presentation on the candidates that they gave to each of the other classes at school. Wildwood’s 5th graders even enjoyed a special visit from Joel Brand, a Wildwood parent and former CNN reporter, who gave an insider view on polling and elections to the students.

After 45 minutes the first surge of voting is complete, and Jan’s students have their room to themselves for a while. During the break in the action, she leads her students in a de-brief.  “What did you notice with this round of voting?” she asks.  “Well, it was kind of loud in here,” says one of her students. “Just like it is in the real world,” Jan tells her students, “Democracy can be messy, and it can be loud.”

Later Tuesday night, President Obama echoed exactly what Jan had explained to her students during their mock election. Thanking his supporters for his re-election, President Obama said, “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy, and messy, and complicated.”  Scaled down to Wildwood size, those thoughts made sense to the Wildwood 5th graders who created and participated in an electoral experience themselves.

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

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“Play is a Child’s Work”

The Kindergarten and 1st Graders in the Seal Pod were having their first Explorations time of the year when I arrived early this week. Students were choosing from a menu of activities meant to pique their passions and hone their problem-solving abilities.

“Play is a child’s work,” said Jean Piaget, and his words on a poster in Sherry Varon and Jan Wald’s classroom clearly guide the instruction.

“We have the table outside set up to experiment with colors,” Sherry tells the students. “You can also choose to work with Jan on the pulley, or with the parent visitors on legos or dress-up,” Sherry adds.  Students chose their activities and began their work.

Sam S. and Asher Z. add elements to their car

In one corner of the room, Asher Z., Sam S., and Quinn K. choose to play with the pulley. Jan built the simple system—stretched horizontally between two bookshelves—with the intention of encouraging the type of imaginative play that Exploration time allows for.

Jan Wald helps Quinn K. with a drill

Asher was busy attaching a wooden box to one of the wires. “We’re making a train car up in the sky,” he tells me. “We have to get it from one side of the valley to the other.” Asher and his friends soon found themselves with a problem to solve: how to move the car across the valley without pulling the wires by hand?  They have an idea and ask Jan for help.  “What’s your plan?” asks Jan. She talks with the boys as they devise a solution, crafting a hand crank out of some round pieces of wood. Jan helps them to drill a hole, and the train car in the sky now has a mechanical motive force.  Pretty cool!

Sherry Varon works with Audrey S. experiment with colors

Outside, Sherry is with the group of girls who have chosen to work at a table, experimenting with colors. The goal: create their own multi-hued palettes for painting using food coloring starting with just the three primary colors—red, blue and yellow. Sherry and I watch as the girls use pipettes to place varying amounts and combinations of food coloring into a matrix of tiny cups; the girls then use paint brushes to test their blends on paper. Laurel H. confidently announces what’s motivated her choice of activities today, “I’m an art person!” while Shania W. shows off a spate of reds she’s been mixing—using more drops creates deeper shades.  Eve K. proudly deepens the conversation, telling us, “If we had white, we could mix it with the red and make pink.”

Shania W. shows off her many hues of red

Explorations is a time-honored best practice among the primary grades at Wildwood; a time that is, as Elementary School Director, Katie Rios, puts it “about children making decisions about what they want to do and see what comes out of it, cognitively, socially and emotionally.”

For Sherry, Explorations time reinforces Piaget’s notion of play being a child’s work. “Students are making choices and negotiating with their peers about how to use time, space and materials. They’re also testing out their personal and academic passions – it’s all part of their learning.” Sherry tells me about past students who have used Explorations time to read, as well as write and act out original plays.

As Explorations time draws to a close, students start to clean up their projects. “We like to give them at least 45 minutes for Explorations”, says Jan “because, developmentally, it takes that long for kids this age to really engage in meaningful play.”  Jan’s words echo the theories of Piaget. The 20th century developmental psychologist felt that this kind of play is essential for children’s cognitive development. Pod-aged children, to paraphrase Piaget, can’t yet think abstractly and use play to try out abstract ideas and concepts in a way that they understand.

An unexpected bonus: Seeing the Seal Pod students so deeply involved in their work clearly illustrated ways that teachers on our elementary campus weave Life Skills into every class experience. In addition to problem solving and cooperation, the students were practicing initiative, organization, and curiosity—all the while engaged in the most important work of all: play.

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

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