Posts Tagged Wildwood Outreach Center

Systems, Systems, Everywhere!

 

Welcome To Our Museum

Welcome To Our Museum!

Question: Beyond “b”, what do bees, boats, and barns all have in common?

If you’re stumped, you might want to ask a Wildwood 2nd grader for help. She or he will tell you that all are key components of different systems—the pollinator, transportation, and farm systems respectively—and are integral to the world we inhabit.

2nd graders Jude S. (center right) and Hope H. (lower right) explain the transportation system

2nd graders in Sarah Simon’s class explain the transportation system

This past week, with assistance from 2nd grade docents, I joined the ranks of all Wildwood elementary students and teachers to learn more about the systems that surround us. The 2nd graders are able guides leading us through their inaugural systems ‘museum’— a collection of exhibits demonstrating student learning about the variety of systems at work in the natural and human world.

The Transportation SystemWe museum visitors walk through each of the three 2nd grade classrooms to interact with student presenters who talk us through various systems maps, explain 3D models, and answer our questions, and even delve even deeper—into an examination of our society’s broken and unfair systems. Our guides are good explainers, while continually reinforcing their own learning by teaching us what they’ve discovered.

The systems museum culminates a year’s learning guided by head teachers Stefanie Grutman, Monique Marshall, and Sarah Simon, along with associate teachers Jessica Collins and Molly Kirkpatrick.

A Coast Guard Boat, Part of the Transportation System

A Coast Guard boat, part of the transportation system

A visit to the students’ exhibits in each classroom is an excellent reminder that systems are our realities—our families and schools, our communities, even the plumbing in our homes all are systems which intersect and depend upon each other, all operating according to their own rules, yet integrated into broader systems.

Laurel H., Marco R., & Luna S. (l to r) present the pollinator system

Laurel H., Marco R., & Luna S. (l to r) present the pollinator system

We know our Wildwood graduates will pursue a huge range of professional and personal endeavors in the future, and developing a capacity for systems thinking at an early age will be of value to all. Minds trained to see the big picture, appreciate cause-and-effect and the inter-relationship of systems can map those understandings onto myriad experiences. Confronting systems that work, and don’t, is a lifelong challenge.

The smiles on 2nd graders’ faces and the thoughtful reflection on their work reminds me that systems thinking is also a lot of fun.

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

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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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Happiness Club! Thanks for Hosting :-)

Hardwiring Happiness PicOur community is about learning. That means opportunities to think and grow are consistently offered for Wildwood students, faculty, and parents. This past week, I enjoyed engaging with over two dozen Wildwood parents who took part in Book Club discussions on both campuses. The seasonal gatherings are sponsored by Wildwood’s Parent Education Committee. This session’s read: Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson.

Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist whose work addresses the brain science of happiness. Too often, peoples’ thinking is clouded by fears and worries, according to Hanson. He believes that our brain’s capacity to establish new neural pathways, called neuroplasticity, can allow for less anxious thinking. His book provides concrete strategies to help people firmly establish new, more productive ways of thinking.

In co-facilitating these discussions with my colleague, Melinda Tsapatsaris, Wildwood’s Assistant Head of School, we opened by asking parents to think of and share a recent positive experience. Most related meaningful interactions with children or a partner—experiences that made them smile, feel appreciated, or loved.

Next we asked the assembled parents to apply some of Hanson’s theory—to extend their thinking: enrich the experience—fill the brain with thoughts of it for at least 10 to 15 seconds and recognize its importance—and absorb it—visualize the experience settling in and soothing the mind and body.

I enjoyed sharing Dr. Hanson’s thesis in Hardwiring Happiness because I found it much more than a simplistic treatise on the power of positive thinking. Rather, he argues—with a wealth of evolutionary and scientific research in support—that taking these additional cognitive steps can help us re-configure our neurons, and actually make us happier.

After enriching and absorbing their positive experiences, as Hanson advises, Melinda and I led the group through a discussion protocol we call “Block Party”. Each parent chooses a card printed with a salient quote from the book. After reading the quote and making a personal connection to it, each person seeks out a partner in the room. The partners share their quotes, describe their significance, and identify connections.

Enhancing Happiness Takeaways: Parents and teachers can help kids’ brains develop a propensity for happiness—much the same way developing a penchant for math or reading. For adults—it’s never too late to change our own, more mature brains for the better.

At Wildwood these practices are exercised daily.  Our students are continually asked to forge and nurture meaningful connections—both to the content they are learning and to one another.  Our seasonal Book Club gives parents that same opportunity to connect with ideas and individuals.  Deep insights and real relationships: the heart and the brain of a Wildwood education.

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

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The REAL Common Core: Joyful Learning for All

RelationshipsHere in Los Angeles we’re pretty serious about making sure learning and teaching is a fun, positive, even joyous experience for both students and teachers.

That’s why over 20 public and private school educators from across the region gathered at Wildwood’s elementary campus this past week to begin a much-needed conversation on how to ensure the joy in teaching and learning for all at a time when there’s so much emphasis on assessment.

Our gathering was eclectic by design: Teachers and administrators from Wildwood, like me, and other LA independent schools, plus our public and charter school colleagues. The group included teachers who work with pre-schoolers, up through 12th graders.

Our meeting space- prepped for conversation

Our meeting space- prepped for conversation

The consensus was pretty clear.  Together we identified some essential qualities necessary for our students’ joyful learning: emphasizing the importance of relationships, authentically engaging in meaningful curricula, and celebrating accomplishments—especially challenging ones. We each also reminisced about how these qualities influenced our own joyful learning experiences as school children.

Our gathering was inspired by the resonance of the theme at the Progressive Education Network national conference in downtown LA last fall:  Play Hard—The Serious Work of Keeping Joy in Learning. All Wildwood faculty attended that conference, and many wanted to continue the conversation with peers.

Our invitation

Our invitation

At the conference I connected with Zeena Pliska, a public school kindergarten teacher at Walgrove Ave. Elementary School in LA’s Mar Vista neighborhood. She was drawn in by the conference theme as well. But as it turns out, among the 800+ conference attendees, Zeena was one of only a handful of LA public school teachers there (and the only one not from a charter school). We knew others would probably like to join this conversation and decided to create a forum together to offer like-minded peers to way to connect. We tapped the talents of Wildwood middle/upper school counselor, Jill Valle, and organized our inaugural event—all three of us facilitating conversations.

We’re already planning the next conversation. The goals: strengthen and expand our connections and explore avenues for action— personally and professionally to ensure joyful learning for all.

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

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Pitch Fest, Wildwood Style

 

Final Draft LogoYou know, it’s kind of like Meet the Parents meets March of the Penguins.

I bet you figured my elevator pitch was a joke.

But here in LA, the creative work of adapting literature for the screen is no joke, it’s big business.

So the Literature to Film class here at Wildwood upper school is quite popular, and the work is real.

The dilemmas are authentic: the student writers and filmmakers are looking for creative partners whose style and sensibilities match well.

On the day I visit, writers Morgan V. and Brandon B. pitch their script based on Ray Bradbury’s science fiction tale, All Summer in a Day, to a jury of peers who will hear from five teams all hoping to have their script produced by the Digital Film students in arts teacher Laura Forsythe’s class.

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

Writers Mason A. and Clay K. make their pitch to student filmmakers

The filmmakers have a lot of questions about the Bradbury script. Some seem dubious about taking on an adaptation set on the planet Venus. Morgan touts the script’s inherent relatability to viewers. “It’s set in a school, with teenage characters from Earth,” and he adds, “with teenage issues.” The story’s main character, Morgan describes, “faces an internal conflict about getting revenge on peers that have tormented her.” The filmmakers now see the possibilities.

The scripts are a culminating project for Emma Katznelson and Melinda Tsapatsaris’s students, who have been working for several weeks to adapt favorite short stories and books.  For Laura’s film students, the process and project will be a genuine test of their skills and creativity as they connect their own visions with the screenwriters’ creating finished products that will  “premiere” just before Spring Break.

Everett D. (center) and other filmmakers assess their peers' pitches

James D. (center-right) and other filmmakers assess their peers’ pitches

Kaiya K., Georgia P., and Quinn M. pitch their script—an adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman first published in 1892. “Would you be open to a more contemporary setting?” one of the filmmakers asks.  “I think we’re ok with it,” Kaiya responds, “as long as it stays true to the story.”

The filmmakers take in the other pitches, each posing its unique challenges and opportunities.  Mason A. and Clay K. describe their adaptation of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the eponymous short story in a 1982 collection by Raymond Carver, which is dialogue-heavy. “What kind of action do you imagine?” they’re asked. Mason relays their vision of lots of flashbacks and voice-overs, and the filmmakers nod their assent.

xxx, Sarah Bales, xxx, and Benji (l to r) make the case for their script

Lucy A., Sarah B., Sophie L., and Benny L. (l to r) make the case for their script

Other offerings range from the lighthearted, like Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, to dark comedy, with David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Across the genres, this collaborative learning experience is realistic— mirroring the real work and meaningful learning that students will do in college and beyond.

This type of story to screen project prompts students to develop some specific skills in the Habits of Mind: Perspective, which the writers develop through their adaptations and Connection, as the filmmakers seek to merge the writers’ visions with their own, to create something new, and ideally fresh.

Which brings us back to my idea about Meet the Parents.

JK. I don’t have a screenplay….

Yet.

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

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GRIT: It’s About Relationships

Grit from NYTimes

As the conversation continues among educators about “grit”, that determiner of long-term success for students, I believe we should be hearing more about the role of relationships.

My years in the classroom as a teacher and advisor have made it clear to me that while the perseverance we call grit may be innate or instinctive for some, it can also be learned, cultivated and instilled – with help from caring adults.

Why grit matters is clear: the ability to envision and attain goals and long term achievement can keep a student on course during a dry spell, a downturn, or even a series of disappointments.  Adults as advisors can help build grit by documenting progress and incremental successes along the way.  Those positives are critical in creating grit as a habit.  The data shows that success is not mostly or only about talent, its correlation with grit is very high. But you need to get there.

Student-advisor relationships are most valuable when the goals are not just about the semester ahead, but take in a broader, big picture scope. Mapping ultimate destinations – in college, career, and life – with consistent guidance from caring adults over a long period of time matters. Kids are not always ready to take the long view, but adults can show them how many short views add up to a long view, and a picture of greater success.

I’m also interested in how thinking about thinking fits in.  Helping students develop what Stanford Professor Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset is another key determiner. In other words, a student’s capacity to see herself as capable of learning ever greater amounts of information and applying new thinking tools influences outcomes.  Advisors remind students of their status as growers – the advantage is with young students in re-setting the brain’s capacity to integrate new data and habits.

Unpacking the conversation about grit is helping to inform our work at Wildwood around how we structure our advisory programs. Grit, like advisory, is essential to students success – both in school and life.  Find out more about how advisory programs can help students develop grit; click to learn more about workshops offered through The Wildwood Outreach Center – Advisory Is Essential 101 and Advisory is Essential 201.

~ 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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