Posts Tagged Kendra Elstad

Lean In… To The Whole Process

Classroom NormsWhen I walked into the visual arts room at the elementary campus and heard the sounds of hammering and drilling accompanied by the smell of glue and sawdust, I knew that whatever the project is, some of the Life Skills would be at play, too: Patience. Problem Solving. Cooperation. Organizing.

These Wildwood 3rd graders are learning to weave. What? Hammers? Yes. They’re starting by building their own looms.  The idea was kid-generated; often the best projects begin that way. Keep reading.

Day One: Building

Cut wood for the looms

Pre-cut wood for the looms

Kids learn basic woodworking skills to assemble their looms, on which they’ll later learn and practice weaving. Each student begins with four pieces of pre-cut wood, laying them together to make a 16” x 14” frame. Two adult helpers—Jeff, a parent, and Tanya, a substitute teacher—drill holes in each frame’s corners. Visual arts teacher, Kendra Elstad, explains to me that “while the kids don’t operate the drill, we do want them to hold it, to know what it feels like.” To secure the frame, students glue and place small wooden dowels in each hole, hammering the dowels into place.

Clara M. sands her loom

Clara M. sands her loom

I ask 3rd grader, Clara M., if the assembly work is difficult. She gives me a thoughtful, 8 year-old perspective: “This isn’t hard.  I go camping. Putting up a tent and living in the woods…. That’s hard.”

The Inspiration: Two Teachers ‘Lean In’

Kusum Nairi, Kendra’s co-teacher, has taught Wildwood 3rd graders to weave for several years now—always on simple, recyclable cardboard looms. But this year when kids asked, she and co-teacher Kendra were inspired to teach their students to build and use their own, long-lasting wooden looms. The catch: it would require Kusum and Kendra to teach basic woodworking skills, something that they would need to learn themselves before teaching the kids.

Teacher Tonya does the drilling for students

Teacher Tonya does the drilling for students

Kusum tells me how it began: “Kendra and I were generating a set of classroom guidelines early in the year with one of our classes. One student’s suggested guideline was ‘lean in to the discomfort of a material’  (see photo above). This prompted another student to ask why we don’t do woodworking in visual arts.” Kendra and Kusum pondered this too. Kendra’s focus area is painting and Kusum’s is sculpture. Neither is a woodworker. Inspired, they sought models to introduce the craft to Wildwood students. Both attended a woodworking workshop at the recent Progressive Education Network Conference here in L.A. That experience pushed Kendra further: She looked up plans for simple looms online. They got the necessary materials. The facilities crew (Beto, Claudio, and Joaquin) prepped the wood, and Kendra and Kusum rolled out the project this week.

Day Two: Warping

Warping the loom

Warping the loom

“It’s harder than it looks,” I overhear one 3rd grader say to another. “You have to go over and under in a pattern. See? Like this.” I watch and listen as students get the hang of warping—taking several feet of yarn and setting it lengthwise across the loom. As students’ confidence grows, the room begins to echo with their voices as they repeat the warping pattern like a mantra: “Over. Under. Over. Under….”

Ready for weaving

Ready for weaving

“This step is essential for their weaving tomorrow,” Kusum tells me. “It also taps into some of the skills that kids this age are perfecting.” I look closely and notice that the work requires these 3rd graders to use their fine motor skills—and a level of concentration that their younger peers in the Pods might not be able to muster.  They also have to recognize and re-create the warping pattern—tapping their visual and spatial skills. I’m beginning to realize that—by design—there’s more to this project than meets the eye.

Day Three: Weaving

Weaving with a shed stick

Weaving with a shed stick

“Think about a landscape here in Los Angeles to inspire you—the city, the ocean, even something from your neighborhood,” Kendra tells the students.  “What are some colors you think of?”  “When I’m at the beach, I see yellow and blue,” a boy says. “Excellent! You can pick out those colors of yarn for your weaving,” Kendra encourages.

Leily K. shows off her weaving

Leily K. shows off her work

The excitement peaks soon after as the dozen or so 3rd graders gather around Kusum’s weaving demonstration. She shares the essential skills: establishing a pattern, changing yarn colors, and using something called a shed stick to ease the process. Afterward, the students eagerly take to their looms, joyfully diving into their work—combining their newly developed motor and spatial skills with symbolic thinking, crafting their visions of local landscapes in woven yarn.

The Takeaway

Words most often heard? “This is so totally awesome!”  I hear that sentiment over and over as I wander the room when I drop in each of the three days. In fact, I hear that quite often at Wildwood at all grade levels; it’s an authentic expression of wonder and insight that tells our teachers that their students are on the right track—for learning and engagement with the subject.

This week these students took on three new skills and prompted their teachers to stretch, too. Together they practiced Life Skills through a learning process that asked them to confront discomfort, see a project through from start to finish, and add skills they didn’t know they were capable of. Awesome, indeed, and a clear example of Wildwood’s commitment to both the content and process of meaningful learning.

~ 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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Learning to Build a Community

Friday is payday for 3rd graders in Melanie Benefiel’s class. The hard work of planning and building “Wildwood Town” will be rewarded as the students collect wages they earned over the past three weeks as part of a Wildwood social studies curriculum long-term project in community design and construction.

From the Wildwood Town Council

For a few weeks in October, Melanie’s classroom morphs into Wildwood Town — a polyglot collection of communities designed and built in the room by her students. The project is launched early in the month. Students engage in a chalk talk (a written brainstorming exercise) in response to the question “What is a community?”  Then, each student receives an official-looking letter from the Wildwood City Council explaining the town’s growing challenges.

The letter from “council members” — head teacher Melanie, and associate teachers Jody Poulos and Kendra Elstad — explains that Wildwood Town has acquired new land and needs a development plan. There’s a need to build urban and suburban communities where people will live, a rural area to provide food and natural resources, and a cyber community, linking these together.  This entire city, the students learn, will be designed and built by them.

Next, students make a career choice. They can select one of three jobs within each community. City designers and mapmakers will be responsible for the overall community plan. Construction workers will need to create the structures and build the roads. And landscape architects will need to collaborate and come up with a design for all green spaces, select plants, and plan for integrating bodies of water.

Every grade level at Wildwood emphasizes authentic learning experiences as part of the core program. For these students, applying and interviewing for the jobs that will make Wildwood Town a reality are part of the work.

3rd grader Paige P. interviews with Jody Poulos

Each student fills out an application form to get the process started. On the day I visit their class, associate teacher, Jody Poulos, calls students one-by-one to the back of the room for interviews where she sits at a desk—a pile of job applications before her, along with an empty seat for students.

Paige P. is the first applicant. “Your application says that you’re applying for the job of construction worker,” Jody begins.  “What experience would you bring to this job?”  Paige thoughtfully responds, “I was really good at block building when I was in the Pods. I built boats and houses. I also like to build things at home,” she says.  Jody ponders Paige’s application and responds, “All of this really indicates that you can look at a plan and create what you see.  That’s what we need our construction workers to do on this project. Can you do that?” Without hesitation and with a smile, Paige says, “Oh, definitely.” She’ll find out whether she’s gotten the job by the end of the day.

An Official Employee Badge

Once hired, each student receives an official employee badge, which they need to wear during all work periods.

Beckett P. and Ian N. work on their community

Do the students take their responsibilities seriously? “On the day jobs are announced and each child is presented with their employee badge, all of the kids stand and applaud, says Melanie. “They do it for everyone. They are so excited and proud that they’ve ‘landed’ their first job.”

Over the course of the next two weeks, students collaborate, create, and construct their assigned communities, and then carefully arrange them into one big Wildwood Town right in the center of the room.

Wildwood Town, Completed

It’s a multi-dimensional social studies simulation with valuable takeaways.  Students learn about communities while experiencing collaboration and integrating the Life Skills, like responsibility and initiative. Melanie says these skills grow naturally, and describes a conversation she had with the kids after a work session.  “I asked them,” Melanie says, “‘What do you do when a co-worker is not working as hard as everyone else?’ One of the girls in her class suggested, ‘Don’t gossip about them….just go up to them and tell them to get to work…you have to.’ Another student,  Beckett P., then raises his hand and exclaims apologetically, ‘I’m sorry! I think I was slacking off today…will I still get paid?’”

Probably. And also like the real world, as soon as the paychecks come tomorrow, students will exchange part of their wages for a class party, to celebrate a job well done, as well as many lessons learned.

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

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