Posts Tagged Middle School

Two Angles on Sustainable Building

 

8th grader, Henry C.'s, house plan

8th grader, Henry C.’s, house plan

Wildwood 8th graders have launched into a pair of projects this month, one in geometry and the other in environmental science. The discreet but linked projects illuminate the kinds of connections that Wildwood middle school teachers design to enhance their students’ math and science learning.

In Erin Hansen’s 8th grade geometry class this week, students are using their geometric knowledge and reasoning to design a house—using a variety of shapes and geometric elements. The project flows through an obvious mathematical lens: using shapes and elements as a template to construct and argue traditional geometric proofs (remember these?). All expected elements in almost any geometry class.

What I didn’t expect was the other lens through which students would view their work: Urban planning. The home design is for a future world, with limited allowances for space and requirements for energy sustainability. What’s more, students need to be able to describe the reasons and principles behind their design through a TED-type talk given to their classmates.

Matin K.'s initial sketch-up of his city plan

Matin K.’s initial sketch-up of his city plan

In conversation with students, 8th graders Matin K. and Sophie K., I realized that indeed this project is connected to Wildwood’s 8th grade environmental science curriculum.  Matin shows me a rough draft of his design on the computer app, Google Sketch-up. “Mine’s an apartment building,” he says. Looking at his plans, I notice another building—a tall tower, set within what looks like a street grid. “The tower’s part of my sustainable city project,” he tells me, “in [science teacher] Jane Kaufman’s class.” His tablemate Sophie shows me her plan, which she’s drawn on graph paper. Her home’s footprint features circular and rectangular living spaces—with an energy system powered by the sun. Sophie explains that her model home is also part of the sustainable city project unfolding in teacher Deborah Orlik’s science class.

Sophie K.'s House Plan

Sophie K.’s House Plan

Curiousity piqued, I head over to Deborah’s room to learn more about that.

“Erin knows that we’ve been doing a sustainable cities project for a couple years,” Deborah Orlik tells me. “This year, she and I made a conscious decision to put math concepts into our science project so that kids could see how they’re used in real life.”

Asher E. explains an idea to group mate Lucy O.

Asher E. explains an idea to group mate Lucy O.

Looking around Deborah’s science classroom, the scene is similar to Erin’s room. I see Deborah’s 8th graders working together in teams of 3 or 4. Some are sitting together, laptops open. Others are standing at whiteboards, drawing and talking—like Asher E. and Lucy O., who are engaged in a debate over which renewable energy source will most efficiently power their city’s public transportation system. Their classmate, Elijah D., chimes in with an idea he developed for his group—hydro-powered turbines placed in the river running through his city.

Like their project in math class, the sustainable city project will require these 8th graders to determine if their design ideas are realistic, which they’ll need to substantiate in a presentation to peers.

“They can dream big,” Deborah iterates, “but their ideas need to be plausible and supported by scientific research and mathematics.”

These two related projects are intentionally designed to allow Wildwood 8th graders to practice key skills for their academic and professional success: Creative and design thinking, research, and mathematical calculation. This kind of cross-disciplinary connection will help not only these Wildwood students in their future endeavors but will also train them in the kind of thinking that will be necessary as they work to solve the real problems that will face the world in our not-too-distant future.

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

 

 

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Through Visitors’ Eyes

Scaling project example from 6th grade pre-algebra

Scaling project example from 6th grade pre-algebra

Every year we get dozens of requests from educators from far and wide, wanting to come see Wildwood’s teachers and students in action. As Wildwood’s Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning, it’s part of my job to help them find the inspiration they are looking for at Wildwood, and take home a few things to think about.

This past week I had the opportunity to play host to two sets of LA-area visitors. Jeff Mercer and Deborah Dowling came from Chadwick School on the Palos Verde Peninsula to check out Wildwood’s Middle School. Jeff is Chadwick’s Middle School Director and Deborah is the Assistant Head of Academic Affairs.

On another visit, Linda Nakagawa and Kim Hayashi came seeking our best practices and split their time between both Wildwood campuses. Linda is an educator in the Rowland Unified School District east of Downtown LA and Kim is an adjunct professor in the education department at Chapman University in Orange County.

Here are some highlights of what our visitors saw in Wildwood classrooms. They speak clearly to Wildwood’s strengths: academic inquiry, project-based learning, collaboration, and technology implementation.

Elementary campus—

  • Fixing Broken Systems. Monique Marshall’s 2nd grade students host their buddies from Central High School, a continuation high school located in the Mar Vista Gardens Housing Project in Culver City. Together, they look at how citizens can build consensus on how to fix the systems in our society that don’t work equitably for everyone.
  • Mathematical Calculations, with a Holiday Twist. Fourth graders in Claudia Hatter’s class take a math challenge: Calculate the total cost of all of the gifts “my true love gave to me” from the song The 12 Days of Festivus, an updated version of the holiday classic.
  • Alphabetic Geography. Jan Stalling’s 5th graders show off their knowledge: Each student comes up with world geographic features and locations based on the last letter of the one that came before it. For example, Jan says “Hong Kong,” and Leslie follows up with “Grand Canyon.”
  • Celebrating Family Systems. Whale Pod head teacher Alli Newell shows off an elaborate systems map that her students created— demonstrating that, although students’ families may celebrate different holidays, there are commonalities that connect them all.

Middle and upper campus—

More models-- scaled up

More models– scaled up

  • Academic Ambassador. Sixth grader Jude M., notices our visitors in the gallery space looking at Arlën Vidal-Castro’s students’ pre-algebra scaling projects. She shows off various examples and explains the math required to complete the project, in which students take a regular household object and either scale it up to create a lager representation, or scale it down to produce a miniature version.
  • Scientists at Work. We stop in to Deborah Orlik’s 7th grade life sciences class to see her students working on laptops. Turns out the students are working with virtual ladybugs, breeding successive generations of the online critters to find out what factors determine the number of spots each ladybug will inherit from its parents.
  • Graph It. Our visitors walk into Cameron Yuen-Shore’s 8th grade algebra class to find students hard at work with another tech tool: A free, online graphing calculator called Desmos. Their assignment is to choose a photograph of a famous building, like the Empire State Building or Big Ben, and plot out a line graph of it on Desmos—showing the algebraic rules that make the graph possible.
  • Film It. Seventh and 8th graders in Megen O’Keefe and Alex Cussen’s Humanities class are in the midst of staging and filming various scenes from their all-class read, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Alex will edit each group’s scene together to create a film that the whole class will watch—further enhancing each students’ knowledge of the novel’s themes, plot, and characters.

Our visitors’ takeaways: “The students here are very self-directed,” Jeff Mercer said, “They sought out the instruction they needed from their teachers and then went ahead and did their work.” Our other visitors echoed this sense of purpose: Wildwood students are consistently engaged in their work.

Student engagement—driven by relevant and interesting content delivered by Wildwood teachers—is central to Wildwood’s program. It spurs our students’ learning and excitement, and will continue to draw visitors to our classrooms—from here in LA and around the world—to see what works in education.

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

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Take Two

logo-teaching-channelAs the school year draws to a close, I wanted to give you a closer look at some of the work in our Wildwood middle and upper school humanities classes that is positively affecting education across the United States.

Last year The Teaching Channel, an online video resource for K-12 educators filmed lessons in two classes:  One on teaching theme analysis in Sara Kaviar and Megen O’Keefe’s Division Two humanities class, and another on teaching the Declaration of Independence in Emma Katznelson and Jason David’s Division Three humanities classes.

Just as impressive as the Wildwood teacher and student work depicted in the videos are the positive comments from educators who viewed and used these lessons with their own students.

Click HERE to see Sara and Megen’s Division Two Lesson.

Click HERE to see Emma and Jason’s Division Three Lesson.

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

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Wildwood Takeaways: Through a Visitor’s Eyes

Visitor BadgeEvery year I get dozens of requests from educators from far and wide, wanting to come see Wildwood’s teachers and students in action.  As Wildwood’s Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning, it’s part of my job to help them find the inspiration they are looking for at Wildwood, and bring home a few things to think about.

This week I had the opportunity to play host to Angela Fasick, the Director of Studies at Laurel School, a 117-year-old independent day school for girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  She wanted to tour Wildwood’s middle/upper campus to see what was going on at a school nationally considered to be a leading innovator, with particular interest in our science and humanities programs. Pat Bassett, the outgoing President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) had included Wildwood on a short list of innovative West Coast schools when Angela’s boss, Anne Klotz, the Head of School at Laurel, asked for suggestions.

Angela Fasick reflect on the takeaways from her visit to the middle school

Angela Fasick reflects on the takeaways from her visit to the middle school

We spent the afternoon in middle school science and team-taught humanities classes.  Before Angela left, I asked her for some feedback: What were her impressions, and, what was most impressive about what she saw?  Her takeaways: She found Wildwood students genuinely engaged in a wide variety of work, and their teachers fine-tuning their instruction to meet students’ varying needs.

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Teacher Becca Hedgepath leads a discussion with her humanities students

Teacher Becca Hedgepath leads a discussion with her humanities students

In Alexis Lessans and Becca Hedgepath’s Division One (6th grade) humanities, Angela and I find students are deep into The Goldsmith’s Daughter, by Tanya Landman. This young adult novel is set in Mexico during the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs.  Angela comments on the sharpness of the students’ skills: she notices the post-it notes that students have used to annotate their reading, as well as the animated discussions that the book elicits. These are all signs of meaningful, engaged learning.

Later in the visit, in a Division Two (7th & 8th grade) humanities classroom we see students demonstrating their knowledge of Taoism through written answers, images, or even physical movements. It’s part of an elaborate simulation, designed to have students play up strengths as they learn about the ancient Chinese belief system. The teaching team in action—Sara Kaviar and Megen O’Keefe, know how to set up their classes flexibily and encourage students to make thoughtful choices about how to show what they know. Angela notes how team teaching at Wildwood promotes these opportunities.

Teacher Katie Boye goes over the rules of a game on natural selection

Teacher Katie Boye goes over the rules of a game on natural selection

Angela’s interest in Wildwood’s science classes is steeped in her school’s interdisciplinary approach to the sciences. She finds Katie Boye’s 6th grade and Deborah Orlik’s 7th grade sciences classes provide strong examples to take back to Ohio.

In Katie’s class, we slip in just as her students are playing a game that incorporates the scientific principle of natural selection with mathematical probability.  Each student has chosen the role of a plant or animal species for the game, with the goal of successfully adapting to various changes in the ecosystem. Katie rolls a die, simulating random events that each student’s species either adapts to or not, based on the species’ characteristics.  Every time Katie calls out the numbers rolled, I sneak a peak at Angela—she’s smiling in response to the students’ shouts of joy or groans of anguish as the die determines their species’ fates, lost in the moment of a game that entertains while they learn.

Angela is especially impressed by the cross-disciplinary student engagement at our final stop for the day, Deborah Orlik’s 7th grade life-sciences class.  Here we see students absorbed in one of three projects—working with various animal skulls to study their diets; studying fish anatomy as part of a project that integrates ceramics; or training classroom rats to perform various tasks on wooden apparatuses the students are constructing for them (Check out the video below! Pretty cool.).  Deborah explains to us that the variety today reflects the fact that students work at different paces, and that she differentiates the classroom experience to meet each student’s needs. Angela tells me later that she is impressed by both the class’s ability to work on a variety of projects at once, and that the students’ engagement speaks volumes about the interest and joy with which they approach their learning.

When she left, Angela said that Wildwood had certainly lived up to its billing. Her positive feedback, I’m happy to report, is fairly typical of visitors to Wildwood’s two campuses. Knowing what the takeaways are for our visitors is a great reflection on our program, teachers, and students, and provides valuable feedback to help our teachers know what works so well here—from a visitor’s point of view.

~ 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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Every Picture Tells a Story

IMG_0245I love seeing Wildwood students in the thick of the creative process, applying what they’re learning in class in novel ways. This week, in Jane Kaufmam’s 7th grade Life Sciences class, I get to watch a group of middle schoolers produce their own short, stop-action animated videos to illustrate their understanding of mitosis.

“This is how life works; it’s how we began and how we grow,” says 7th grader Felix S., explaining the process by which cells divide and duplicate themselves.

7th Graders Emma H. (left) and Chantal S. (right) prepare photos for their mitosis video

7th Graders Emma H. (left) and Chantal S. (right) prepare photos for their mitosis video

Jane’s students began studying plant and animal cell life before winter break. Now they are working in teams of two or three on this culminating project—re-creating the various stages of cell division in different colored clays on a white background. Then, using either a smartphone and tripod, or a laptop camera, they photograph each stage, and edit the pictures together to produce their film.

IMG_0256Felix and his partner Ferdi A. are believers in the project-based approach to learning about this key biological process.  “When you can build a cell in clay, with all of its parts, and then show how it divides, you’ll never forget it; it’s fun.” Felix adds, “seeing it in a book is one thing, but it’s easier for me to see and understand mitosis this way.”  See Felix and Ferdi’s video below.

Next up for these 7th graders?  Jane fills me in: “The poison picnic,” she says. “We’ll be studying single cell bacteria next, and the kids get to do a CSI-like project where they apply their knowledge to solve a mystery about what causes a hypothetical group of Wildwood teachers to get food poisoning.”

Sounds interesting

Already hoping I’m not invited to that picnic.

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

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Get Some Perspective!

Addressing questions from multiple viewpoints is vitally important at Wildwood. It’s a kind of learning embedded in the Habit of Perspective, and happens everyday.  In Don Smith and Lauren Sekula’s Divison Two humanities class this week students are gaining perspective directly by experiencing, first-hand, the Five Pillars of Islam—that faith’s central tenets.

Throughout this year all Division Two humanities students study world religions, grappling with questions from a range of perspectives. For this week, the questions are distinctly Islamic: How much of one’s annual income should Muslims give to the poor or charities? What is the proper way to pray to Allah?  What words must a person speak in order to become a Muslim?  To answer these questions, students rotated to three experiential stations, managed by Don, Lauren, and fellow humanities teacher, Sara Kaviar.

7th and 8th grade students practice the form for Muslim prayer, or salat

7th and 8th grade students practice the form for Muslim prayer, or salat

At one end of the room, Sara leads students in salat, or daily prayers. She instructs each student to stand behind large rectangles of red paper on the floor—stand-ins for sajjāda, or prayer rugs. Using a kid-friendly YouTube animation depicting salat, Sara leads the students through each step—from standing, to bowing, to full prostration with foreheads on the mat. After some initial awkwardness, the students delve in and repeat the steps several times. These kinds of experiential moments are essential, Sara says.  “We want our kids to view and experience the kinds of things that they will encounter in their multicultural world,” Sara tells me. “And engaging in the physical movements,” Sara continues, “helps reinforce the prayer’s meaning and allows students to better remember this essential element of the Islamic faith.”

charity pledges, or zakat, made by Don Smith and Lauren Sekula's students

charity pledges, or zakat, made by Don Smith and Lauren Sekula’s students

Across the room, Lauren Sekula leads a discussion about the practice of zakat, or alms-giving. Muslims, she explains, are supposed to give 2.5% of their income to the poor or charities.  Students consider this age-old practice in the context of today’s world by accepting an index card that lists a modern occupation, along with a typical yearly income. After a few mathematical calculations to determine their contributions, students then choose a modern-day charity to “give” their zakat to based on a number of non-profit profiles that Lauren’s provided on a poster.  8th grader, Kiona M., draws her sample occupation: airline pilot, salary $73,000 per year.  “That would mean,” Kiona says, doing her calculations, “that my zakat is $1,825 per year.” That’s how much she would be expected to give, but the conversation then turns to the meanings underlying this Pillar.

A student tries his hand at writing the Islamic creed, shahada

A student tries his hand at writing the Islamic creed, shahada

Examining the third of the Five Pillars, each student is guided by Don Smith through the reading and writing of the shahada—the Islamic declaration of faith. With this, Muslims declare that there is no god but Allah and that the Prophet Muhammad is his servant and messenger. Saying and truly believing the shahada is what it takes for a person to become a Muslim. The experience at this station, however, is that the students need to write the shahada in Arabic script. Don gives them a sample in Arabic, which invites them to re-create it in their own hand with calligraphy pens. Students become engrossed as they appreciate and emulate the script’s flowing curves and lines, proud of their creations when they finish.

7th grader, Olivia F., shows off her completed shahada, or Islamic creed

7th grader, Olivia F., shows off her completed shahada, or Islamic creed

Students rotated through the three stations, and paused to reflect a bit on the Muslim perspective. “If I just read something,” 8th grader Megan B. tells me, “some of it goes in one ear, so to speak, and out the other.”  But, she continues, “when I actually do something like this, it sticks.” Her classmate, fellow 8th grader Sophia S., elaborates. “When I do things like we did today,” she posits, “it makes me even more interested in and connected to the topic when I do read about it.”

Tomorrow, these students will continue to build their Islamic perspective, when their teachers guide them through the remaining two Pillars: sawm, or fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and the hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

By connecting these ideas and actions, and many others through the year, our humanities students are prompted to consider the world from many points of view, now, and, as a habit. In other words, always.

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

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