Posts Tagged Wildwood School

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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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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They Make A Village

4th grade Chumash coastal scene

4th grade Chumash coastal scene

Dropping in on Will Schaer’s 4th grade class these days, you’ll find students hard at work on their latest California history project. Groups of four to five students are scattered throughout the room—some are working with clay and straw, others with paint and sand. Their collective task: construct a scale-model scene of an indigenous Chumash coastal village.

Will's students work on their scene

Will’s students work on their scene

By design, the Wildwood Life Skills are embedded in the work. Each group needs to reach consensus on their design, materials, and presentation. “It’s a very collaborative process,” Will tells me, “Each group gets a foam core base and an assignment to design and construct one of four scenes.” “When they’re all done,” Will adds, “we’ll put them together to form our own Chumash village.”

A survey of the works in progress shows a range of approaches. One group is building miniature ops, the typical round Chumash-style dwelling—using sticks, clay and straw. Another group is carefully creating a coastal scene, smearing blue and yellow clay on their foam core to represent the sea and sand, respectively.

Will's students show off their work

Will’s students show off their work

A group in the corner, tasked with illustrating a variety of Chumash children’s games, has a couple of ideas in the works. One intriguing example is explained by 4th grader Eli M.: “It’s called ‘kill the bunny,'” he shares. Turns out, the name is much more harrowing than the actual game. “It was the Chumash version of bowling,” he reveals. “They rolled a rock to knock down wooden ‘bunnies.'” His group mates show me their plans to depict other games—a Chumash version of kickball and ‘hoop and pole,’ a target game.

At a round table in another corner, a group of five students have filled their foam core base with pencil sketches, and they are considering various printed and illustrated handouts. Fourth grader, Ella K., talks her group through some ideas on how to build a key element of their scene—a ceremonial fire. “We can use the red clay for the flames,” she says, “and some pebbles to show the fire pit.” She shares with me some of the photos the group is using to guide their design, from a book the class read on the Chumash.

Will’s 4th graders will work a few more days before their scenes are assembled into the full Chumash village. Throughout the process, these students will continue to practice the Life Skills embedded in every successful collaboration with peers—flexibility, perseverance, and problem solving.  Expecting students to approach, analyze and innovate together is a way of making the content more meaningful and memorable. For Wildwood students, this collaborative way of working is introduced casually, learned and reinforced daily, and becomes a lifelong habit.

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

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Guess Who’s Coming to Wildwood?

Visiting Japanese educators with Director of Elementary School, Katie Rios, and noted educator, Barbara Polland

Visiting Japanese educators with Director of Elementary School, Katie Rios, and noted educator, Barbara Polland

Not just kids. But other kinds of learners, and, lots of them. At least twice a month, Wildwood hosts educators curious about what we’ve got going on here. As the director of the Wildwood Outreach Center, I play host to these visitors, who come from public and private schools all over the world. Some of our visitors are from as nearby as neighboring schools on LA’s Westside. Others come from as far away as New England and New Zealand, Singapore and Brazil.

Each of these visits is an opportunity to showcase the Wildwood approach. That’s valuable, as Wildwood is deeply committed to exporting what works here—from advisory to project based learning. But each of these visits is also a kind of exchange, as we gain insights from a huge range of teachers and education leaders from all over who face many challenges and come to us looking for ways to do it better.Camino Nuevo Charter Academy

I thought you’d be interested to know that often we open our classrooms for observations. Last week, for example, three middle school humanities teachers from City Charter School in LA’s Pico-Robertson neighborhood visited with their 6th grade counterparts, Wildwood Humanities teachers Alexis Lessans and Becca Hedgepath. We’ve also hosted a group of math teachers from LA’s Camino Nuevo Charter Academy who came to watch and learn from two of our teachers, Lori Reardon and Arlën Vidal-Castro.

U of Chicago Lab SchoolsThis fall I was honored when Asra Ahmed, an assistant High School Principal at the University of Chicago Lab Schools paid Wildwood a visit. Her school — which famously launched the progressive education movement in the early 20th Century—sent her to glean insights from Wildwood’s 21st century interpretation of ideas and practice. We talked about how Wildwood integrates Habits of Mind and Heart into the curriculum and our multicultural programming.

LAUSDOthers come looking for teacher professional development ideas. Michele Shannon is a doctoral candidate at Harvard on a year-long fellowship as an administrator in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She told me she’d heard about Wildwood’s reputation, and came to explore what we have to offer the LAUSD administrator corps to boost and focus best educational practices in schools throughout the city.

Both of the last two years the Outreach Center has hosted a contingent of teachers and administrators from Singapore American School, here to learn from, what they consider to be, one of the most innovative schools in the world—Wildwood. Other international educators seek out Wildwood as a laboratory, where they can see best practices at work. We’ve hosted such delegations of Japanese elementary school educators, and Heads of international schools, like Medbury School in Christchurch, New Zealand, or the progressive High Scope Schools in Indonesia.Singapore American School

All of these visits make for engaging conversation about what we do at Wildwood, why, and how. These visits are also an occasion to remind myself: our school is founded on meaningful conversations, both internally and externally. Last month I was fortunate to spend some time with Tom Little, the Head at Park Day School in Oakland, CA. His school is a like-minded progressive, independent school similarly situated to Wildwood. Tom spent time in several elementary classrooms and then sat down with me and Director of Elementary School, Katie Rios, to ask us some questions for a book he’s writing on progressive schools.

High-Scope-IndonesiaThese visits are all part of a day’s work for me, but I’m not sure many people in our Wildwood community know about this constant flow of visitors who know and care about what we are doing. Thanks to our outstanding teachers and a genuine commitment to great teaching and learning, the buzz about Wildwood is real, and growing.

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

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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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An Afternoon with “America’s Most Influential Teacher” Rafe Esquith and Reflections on Teacher Practice at Wildwood


Hobart Blvd. Elementary School

It’s been nearly three weeks since I visited Rafe Esquith’s classroom at Hobart Blvd. Elementary School, and I’m still thinking about what I saw, and how it relates to the work we do with kids here at Wildwood.

Hobart Blvd. Elementary in Los Angeles’s Koreatown is a non-descript Los Angeles public school serving a predominantly Latino and Korean-American student body. Eighty-five percent of the students at Hobart qualify for free or reduced-price lunch—a common indicator of poverty.

Here Rafe Esquith, the most influential classroom teacher in America, (according to The Washington Post’s long-time education reporter Jay Matthews), does things his way.

After spending some time there, I saw that his way is in many ways, the Wildwood way.

No_ExcusesHis core focus is on instilling skills and habits that prepare students to meet the challenges ahead.  And the outcomes are irrefutable. Despite their modest means, Rafe’s students from the past three decades have gone on to lead happy, fulfilling lives, with scores attending the most prestigious universities in the country.

On the day I visit Rafe’s classroom, I can see this focus first-hand.  The school day is over, and I’m sitting in on a typical 3-hour afterschool rehearsal of the Hobart Shakespeareans, an internationally recognized group of Hobart 3rd through 5th graders, led by Rafe.  His students perform a different Shakespeare play each year.  This year, the play is The Tempest and over 50 students are arrayed across the room, and each has an open copy. Silent and attentive, the students are entirely focused on their peers who are rehearsing a scene on the makeshift stage at the back of the room.

Rafe seems aware of what about this scenario might pique his classroom visitors’ curiosities most, so when the scene concludes he asks a young boy, rhetorically, why he and his peers are so quiet and attentive. “Because it shows the students rehearsing that they matter to us; it’s respectful.”

Immediately, my thoughts turn to Wildwood’s Life Skills—the personal qualities and skills that we consistently weave into our own elementary program. One of these, Interpersonal Skills, includes the respect and good manners that this young man describes.Teach_Cover

As if reading my mind, Rafe asks his students this follow-up: “What else are we doing here today that has nothing at all to do with Shakespeare?” Hands shoot up everywhere. “We’re learning to be organized—we need to know our cues and our stage directions,” says one student. “You have to know your lines and everyone else’s in your scene—so we’re learning to be responsible and collaborative.”  Again, I hear an echo of the Wildwood Life Skills.

What’s my takeaway? While there are obvious differences between Wildwood and Rafe Esquith’s classroom at Hobart Blvd. Elementary– differences that can’t be glossed over—the students in both settings benefit profoundly from each’s rich, nurturing environment. Wildwood classrooms, like Rafe’s, flourish in an atmosphere of respect, trust, and a sensitivity to each child’s needs. It’s good educational practice, and it knows no socio-economic bounds. However, to make substantive changes in every child’s education, we need more Rafe Esquiths… and more Wildwoods.

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

Learn more. Rafe Esquith is also a New York Times bestselling author.

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Games. Songs. Stories. Could learning Spanish really be this much fun?

Its 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and the Whale Pod—one of Wildwood’s four multi-age kindergarten/1st grade classes, is ramping up. “¡Hola!” greets Catalina Hernandez, one of the elementary school Spanish teachers. “¿Comó estas?” As she speaks, Catalina’s whole body seems to say hello: her facial expression is exaggerated, she waves excitedly, and she practically sweeps kids up with her enthusiasm.

Children repeat the greeting and immediately launch into a quick exercise where they go around the semi-circle asking each other’s names. Then they count to 20, using their bodies to express each digit. Now it’s time for a song. We are 10 minutes into the half-hour lesson, and so far not a word of English has been spoken. Catalina cheers los niños on with, “¡Excellenté! ¡Muy bien!” This is not a class for the lazy. Catalina keeps her young charges moving at a fast clip; there’s no time to get bored.

Children learn to ask, "What's your name?" in Spanish.

At this point in their Spanish education, the Pod students are gaining confidence in speaking a new language; confidence is the foundation for the mastery that comes later. Over the next few years, students will develop the rhythm and basic vocabulary through Total Physical Response (TPR). They’ll dance, point, use their fingers, and make silly faces that they will associate with Spanish vocabulary.

Wildwood's youngest students learn Spanish through dance, song, games, and stories.

Does it work?

If Tuesday’s class was any indication, the answer is a resounding “sí.” Toward the end of the lesson, Catalina asked students to go around the room and point to something “azul.” With little hesitation, each child found a blue object. Then she asked for “rojo.” They quickly dispersed and regrouped around red objects. And so it went as she worked them through the primary colors.

Were they learning? Yep. Were they having the best time doing it? Yep. Kind of sneaky, that TPR. Learning by having fun. Sign me up.

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