Monday, December 19, 2016

Weekly Updates: Week 14 and 15

Week 14

Sam's Homeroom --
Our time this week was split primarily between rehearsals for the school play; researching and organizing the information for the biome card games for science, and planning the stories for the constellation myths, including making a "story mountain" for the plot and writing physical character descriptions of the protagonist and antagonist.

Sam's Math Group
This week we continued our study of arithmetic with fractions, moving on to multiplication with mixed numbers. We especially focused on developing visual models.

Additionally, while the rest of the class was rehearsing for the play, Folu, Sophie and Mark made the treasure chest prop for our class' myth.

Folu uses the protractor to make sure the lid angle was the same on each side of the chest.

Mark use straightedges and Sharpie to clean up and highlight the sketch Folu made. 

Week 15

Sam's Homeroom
Despite the snow day on Monday and the Nutcracker performance on Thursday, this week had quite a lot going. Building on the story mountains (plot arcs) and character descriptions we wrote last week, everyone is now ion the process of writing a myth based on the constellation they designed a few weeks ago. We also continued the work on the biome card games moving from the initial and scientific research to discussions of game balance and power levels of the individual cards. Focusing on the science project and the constellation myths, in addition with the weekly logic puzzle and a Scholastic News, there ratio of assignments to work time was higher than usual and many of the students will have some things to bring home this weekend.

Addie and Folu discuss the ratios of "eats to is eaten by" in Into the Forest.

Sam's Math
We only met twice this week and so work was focused on the Singapore books, especially more complicated fractions story problems using the bar model strategy. On Friday, Susan's 1/2 math class came to show us a mathematical magic trick they'd learned.

Esh shows Will his trick. (Femi is showing his trick to someone off camera.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Authenticity in Projects: An Example with Ethnography

Our class recently completed our major project for the "Exploration" theme--an ethnographic study of the kindergarten class. (Click here to see the presentation.) 

One of key features that makes Summers-Knoll different is our commitment to project-based learning. Authenticity in education, especially in projects, is a common refrain of progressive education. The whole faculty has been investigating more closely what this means to us and how it impacts your children. 

Walter recently forwarded an blog post from Buck Institute for Education to the teaching staff here about PBL, or Project Based Learning. Quoting from the blog:

“Fully authentic” means students are doing work that is real to them—it is authentic to their lives— or the work has a direct impact on or use in the real world.

A project can be authentic in four ways, some of which may be combined in one project:
1. It meets a real need in the world beyond the classroom or the products students create are used by real people.
Observing and reporting on the behavior of the kindergarteners is of immediate value to the SK community, especially the teachers who directly work with that class. 

2. It focuses on a problem or an issue or topic that is relevant to students’ lives—the more directly, the better—or on a problem or issue that is actually being faced by adults in the world students will soon enter.

While the problems of kindergarteners are not identical to the issues faced by my 5/6 students; the larger concept of how students interact in a classroom is extremely and directly relevant to my students.

3. It sets up a scenario or simulation that is realistic, even if it is fictitious.
4. It involves tools, tasks, standards, or processes used by adults in real settings and by professionals in the workplace. 
The general scenario--making observations about behavior, drawing conclusions from those observations, and submitting the data and observations for review by peers--is the process used by social scientists.  Additional, Heidi Ganzen, a UofM graduate student in sociology came to our class and talked about the types and techniques for making observations and helped us think about how to turn those observations into supported conclusions.  In meeting with Heidi, my students got to hear first hand about the real tools, tasks and processes used by someone actively engaged in the same kind of research.

Authenticity in projects:
Supports and promotes intrinsic motivation through clarity and meaningfulness of task--the students know WHY they are doing what they are doing.
Enhances comprehension and life skills through interaction with the actual tools and processes used by professionals in the field. 

Authenticity in projects is core to what we do at SK, and one of the reasons I love teaching here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Weekly Update -- Week 13

Sam's Homeroom:
We're getting into the meat of of study of mythology and the stars. This week everyone selected a myth from around the world to read and think about. On Tuesday, the class visited with Mrs. Carpenter's class. The students paired off and the 5/6s read their selected myth to the 1/2s. 

Sophie reads to Mila
Folu reads Femi the myth of Thor's Wedding
Lucas and Andrew

Our constellation/mythology writing project got going this week as well. Each student made their own asterism. Starting with one of the brightest stars in the sky, the found other starts to complete an image, then brainstormed about characters, setting, and potential conflict. 

Additionally, a lot of our homeroom time was spent working on the Ecosystem Card Game project for science class. In small groups the students are researching the flora and fauna of specific biomes to make a card game based on the game "Into the Forest" that we've played a couple of time in science class.

On Friday, we presented the Kindergarten Ethnography project at the Morning Meeting. (My next blog post goes into a lot more detail about that project.)
Addie, Mark and Sophie work on their Australian Rainforest Card Game

Sam's 5/6 Math Group:
This week we dug deeply into multiplying fractions. The activity asked students to find an answer to a straightforward problem (the first one was "What is 2/3 of a group of 1/2") using a pictorial model (drawing) and also to create a story problem that could be represented that way. The students spent most of Tuesday developing their own strategies, including figuring out algorithms and using pictorial models. On Thursday, we learned a specific technique using rectangular arrays and went over some of the story problems the class had written.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Week 11 -- November 14 - 18

This week has been full of special events and preparation for public displays. In homeroom, the students have been polishing up their kindergarten ethnography presentations, which will be displayed on Grandfriend's Day and at an upcoming Morning Meeting (12/2). We also spent more time getting into our combined astronomy/mythology unit talking more about constellations. Each student also selected a myth from outside of the Greco-Roman tradition to read now, and later, read and discuss with Susan's class. On Thursday, we took a field trip to the UofM Natural History Museum for two planetarium shows. The first show included a number of Native American etiological myths about the origins of the stars and constellations; the second show had us looking at an asking may good questions about the current night sky. In the coming weeks, the students will be asked to directly observe the night sky; they should already be able to locate and identify a few of the brightest stars and constellations, depending on how bad the light pollution is. (The concept of light pollution led to a whole separate conversation.) -- Ask your student to tell you a story about the Pleiades and see if he/she can find it in the sky.

The weather on Friday led us to have Science class outside. We planted tulips and dropped milkweed seeds in the raised beds and then had a little extra time to jump in leaf piles!

Sam's Math Group
This week there was only math on three days and on Tuesday much of the class was taking the AMC 8 contest, so the remaining students learned and played the numerical card game "Poison." The rest of our time on Monday and Thursday was devoted to working on Khan Academy and Singapore. Right now, most of the class is working with fractions and mixed number, a few have started on the related idea of unit conversions.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Social-Emotional Intelligence and the New World Order

I started thinking about this blog post a while ago and had written a few notes. In the wake of last weeks election, I am particularly struck by the first line of those notes:

"It's about respect and mutual understanding of what the goals are."

Developing social intelligence, the so-called EI or EQ, requires unscripted and less hierarchical social interactions amongst the relevant parties; in the classroom this is the teacher declining to intervene in some situations that might be remedied quickly by an adult and that require significant discussion by the children to tease out without a dictum from above. Promoting autonomy means the kids need to try (and hopefully) succeed in navigating those delicate social interactions, discomforts and spats without an authority figure stepping in.

[Of course, there are times when the teacher must intervene, but the preference is to allow students to figure out things on their own. The teacher is largely an observer and intercedes only when a student or group is having particular difficulty resolving a conflict or when politely, and directly, asked for assistance.]

At SK, small class sizes and a desire for a strong community require empathy, compassion and some good old fashioned "walking a mile in your shoes." By design there can't be large social divides like cliques, clubs, athletics, or the arts to balkanize the populous into more homogenous affinity groups. We all HAVE to interact with each other.

Perhaps the country will be better off if we can try for some more of that as well.

Weekly Updates -- October and Early November

From this point on, I'll be posting my weekly update to this blog as well as having it included in Walter's school-wide weekly email. This time I'm including all the weekly updates from the beginning of October until now. I'll be including pictures when relevant.

Friday October 7:
This week we celebrated the first student birthday of the year. Traditionally in the 5/6, the birthday student has been given a choice from a number of activities. Juliana chose to "watch something relevant" on a screen. We watched the Star Trek episode: Darmok; our classroom conversation turned to the cultural aspects of language and linguistics. Tangentially, also as part of our studies of culture, we have been thinking about positive classroom and small group behaviors. Each student looked at one of the "Rights and Responsibilities" posted by the main entrance and made a Goofus and Gallant style drawing or paragraph after reflecting on how to best illustrate it. This week, in our ongoing studies of the kindergarten, the 5/6s generated focused questions for study and next week we'll begin collecting data.
In Monarch land, Wednesday afternoon was our big Monarch release event. The combined 5/6 classes with Lisa released about a dozen butterflies this year and are anxiously waiting to see where our Monarchs might be seen. The event was made even more special with the flyby of a wild Monarch just before the release.

October 14:
This week we saw us furthering some our ongoing research into the Kindergarten, formulating formal questions for study and identifying times to make observations. On Tuesday, we discussed the possibility of getting a class pet and what the pros and cons of some various animals would be. In the mythology theme the class each read their own short myth from around the world and worked on writing a summary of the myth including the main idea and key points. In preparation for a visit from UMS dance instructors next week and then a field trip to see the Dorrance Dance Company, we talked and watched some video clips about the history of tap dance. 

In Math, Jason and Sam's group met together on Tuesday and Thursday. The combined groups are discussing graphing data on the coordinate plane using the 5-6 monarch studies as the focus. We'll continue this discussion next week, particularly thinking about how to normalize the date based on a life event of the butterflies rather than using a specific date as the benchmark moment.

October 21:
First, a presentation followed by discussion, a visit from guest instructors, and a field trip to see the Dorrance Dance company perform ETM:Double Down at the Power Center. We learned more about the history of tap dance, the fusion of tap and electronic music and also got to learn and perform a bit of tap dance ourselves.
Second, in preparation for the upcoming parent-teacher conferences, all the students did their first major reflection assignment of the year. While the weekly reflection is about the short time period and individual assignments, the larger reflections help students revisit and deepen their thinking about longitudinal assignments, general class structures and social dynamics.
They also continued working on the "Indistinguishable from Magic" stories adding illustrations to accompany their writing and continued to make observations of the kindergarteners for the ongoing ethnography project.

October 28:
We had a return visit from Susan and Jenny to teach us more about electronic tap music; they showed off some technology for creating electronic music using physical actions and, in addition had the class doing some a capella music loops.
The class has been putting the finishing touches on their "Indistinguishable from Magic" stories and are now focusing on editing and peer review.
The class continues to collect data for the Kindergarten ethnography project. This week we learned about the concept of an artifact and decided for this project it would be a slide show for Grandfriends Day. On Thursday everyone had an individual check-in with Sam to discuss their specific plan.
In Sam's math group, we followed on the Monarch graphing lessons of the last two weeks by further discussing negative numbers. We talked about "caps" and "cups" and the Zero Monster, as a way to conceptualize addition of signed numbers. We also looked at positive and negative numbers on the number line. In the Singapore books, most of the class is beginning/revisiting adding and subtracting fractions with like and unlike denominators.

November 4:
This week Sam's class focused on finishing up the "Indistinguishable from Magic" stories with a reciprocal peer-review process that was modeled for the class by Jarod, Juliana and Lilith. Additionally, we had a lesson on run-on sentences as part of the process of proof-reading the story for small details. (In contrast to the peer review which was more focused on reader response and clarity of ideas.)
Halloween is always a big day for the 5-6s, in addition to the parade, we got together with Jason's class to play some board games in the afternoon., asking the students to learn the rules from the manuals or to teach each other if they were already familiar with the game. Tuesday afternoon saw us celebrating another birthday, Lucas brought in snacks and then chose to have the class watch "something related to class" on the screen: the Star Trek:TNG episode Masks. That episode gets into the connections of astronomy and mythology which is also, not coincidentally, our next major project.

November 11:
This short week gave us time to reflect, respond and polish as well as introduce our next major project. Wednesday was largely devoted to thinking about and discussing the results of the election; we also spent some time working on the final presentation for the Ethnography project. Thursday afternoon we had some more time to work on the presentations and began our next unit on constellations and mythology with an introductory small group activity that had the class researching and reporting about specific constellations and the associated Greek Myths.
As I mentioned in an earlier email, there was no formal checkout this week, finishing the Ethnography project and the warm ups from this week will be included in next week's checkout (on 11/18).

Friday, October 14, 2016

Early October Photos

Nothing too philosophical this time; instead, pictures of children:

The play structure was popular this week.

The girls all ending up sitting together as they read and summarized myths.

We found a lot of milkweed at the Rec Center.

Lisa explains how to select pods and harvest milkweed seeds. 

A group has been working on a "fort" during recess.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Watch and Listen, Measure and Record, Analyze and Reflect, Learn

Observe, Reflect, Report

As part of the Monarch project and our ethnography studies, our class has been spending a lot of time making observations and talking about what to do with those observations. Why is this important?

The philosophy of constructivism is at the heart of progressive education, and shows through strongly in our current studies. (If you don't have time to read the wiki entry this quote highlights a key idea: "Learners look for meaning and will try to find regularity and order in the events of the world even in the absence of full or complete information.")

Making good observations is the foundation that must precede the search for "regularity and order" if the endeavor is to be solid. This is why we spend so much time, right at the beginning of the year, observing, discussing, categorizing and evaluating. The students MUST be able to make useful observations and to know what that means in context, whether it means numerically precise, appropriately detailed, and/or properly quoted.

But When Do They Learn How to Do _______?

This approach need not, and in fact is best when it doesn't, completely leave behind traditional academic tasks and the occasional direct instruction (i.e. lecture).

For the ongoing study of Monarch butterflies, students have been tracking their growth, quantitatively, measuring the length of the caterpillars and the time they spend in their chrysalids before eclosing. (Ask any 5/6 student for a definition of eclose.) They've also been making more general qualitative observations about behaviors and appearance of their Monarchs.

After looking at their data, the class volunteered the questions, "How long is a monarch caterpillar when it pupates?" and "How many days does a Monarch spend in it's chrysalis?" These questions emerged simply from the students keeping track and thinking about what it might mean; however, to answer these questions scientifically the students were in need of some tools that merited a direct, specific and relatively traditional lesson about graphing data on a set of axes. Thus, learning a transferrable skill, graphing points on a grid and looking for trends, rather than being taught abstractly with a meaningless collection of points, is fully grounded in the need to answer the student generated questions. Thus, the whole exercise has a direct and obvious link to the real world and proceeds from the students intrinsic motivation "to find regularity and order."

Ok, But That's Still Pretty Teacher Led...

In an more student directed project, we have also spent a lot of time studying ethnography and making observations of the kindergarten class. Even after only a few visits (and with some examples from the research of our visiting ethnographer, UofM sociologist, Heidi Ganzer), the class has started to generate their own possible questions for study:

  • What are the standards of behavior at recess? lunchtime? 
  • How do the K's interact with each other? the physical space?
  • What kinds of play do they engage in? 
  • How does Val redirect and otherwise manage the class?
In the coming weeks, each member of the class will be thinking deeply about one of these, or a similar question as we continue to watch and listen, measure and record, analyze and reflect. 

We will also get into some further teacher-led lessons on data analysis (coding qualitative data especially) and reporting our findings (which is when we'll talk about: what to include in a report, writing mechanics, the difference between what our observations tell us about how things work and our conclusions about why it might be that way.   

Sunday, September 25, 2016

September Photos

Hello All,

Many of my posts will have a great deal to say about the hows and whys of our class. This is not that post. (Look for that post in the next week.)

This post is a photo summary of our year so far:

Sophie, Addie and Lilith work on the "Great Recess" Debate

Folu and Sophie decorate their shelf boxes.

Lisa shows the class a caterpillar in the "hanging J."

Juliana presents her groups ideas about "What is Culture."

Lilith measures a chrysalis.

Jarod, Lucas, Juliana and Addie make quantitative and qualitative observations at the CFP playground.

Juliana conquers the high ropes course.

Making initial observations of the kindergarten class.

Mark and Will prepare to tag and release a monarch.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Class Trip and Finishing Projects

Short post this week so you can all have your children's assessments in relatively short order.

Historic Philly Mini-Golf: The Rocky Steps
The Chinatown Friendship Gate

President Owen Schwarzenegger? (At the Constitution Center)

Cheese Steaks!!!

At Fallingwater

More Mini-Golf (Elfreth's Alley)

Back at school -- the Zomedy Script/Editing Team
Sophie makes copies of the board for "The Hexagon Game"

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Week 34

This week we took a slight detour from the syrup making project to make Rock Candy:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Week 33 -- Coming to a Climax

We've continued working on our two big projects. The Zomedy filming is moving along, we intend to wrap up principal photography next week. This week on Thursday afternoon, with some extras from Spencer's class we went back to Barby's to film the thrilling final battle action scene.

The Syrup project is also moving along. So far, we've figured out that keeping the syrup in the fridge and making it more concentrated should improve the shelf life; we're hopeful that we'll able to determine how long the syrup is good so that we can send some home before the end of the school year.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Week 31 and 32 -- A Sticky Situation

Making batches of syrup. 

Unfortunately, our syrup making/marketing projecting has been tainted; tainted by mold. On Monday we went to show off the syrups we'd made last week and found that they were all contaminated!

This seeming failure has actually been a wonderful opportunity for teaching about food safety, and the importance of safety protocols. (We've been working on protocols for a while, but this time it's really hit home with the students.)

Lisa helped up debrief our process and brainstorm possible remediations.

Eli and I spent some homeroom time brainstorming variables and thinking about how we could test those.

This Friday we made 12 jars of syrup to evaluate some the variables we'd identified. Lisa helped us set up a recording and tracking matrix for our data. We don't have results yet, but the setup looks like this:

Consistency: (sugar/water ratio)
In the fridge
On a counter
In the sunlight

Because we we're so wrapped up (or perhaps stuck on...) the syrup project, we didn't get a chance to do formal checkout this week. Everyone should have filled out the checkout reflection and know what work/if any needed to be done this weekend, but I won't have a chance to sign off on it until Monday.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Week 30 -- Projects and the Value of Play

We often talk about the importance of play in the learning environment. This has been brought home to me especially clearly as my class works on their various long-term projects.
Throughout much of the fall and winter, the class worked on small-scope projects that I had crafted with specific learning goals in mind. This is all well and good, and certainly has a significant place in the our school.
However, the true motivational power of the student center classroom is only unlocked when the children start to explore projects that are born of their personal interests. As the teacher, I still have a major role in aiding the students to: clarify the scope, break down and manage the workflows, provide materials and emotional support.

We'll be showing a preview trailer for the movie at Monday morning meeting.

In this week's photo dump you see the fruits of the students labors:

We spent some time on Wednesday making zombie masks for the movie project.
Identifying and locating props has been a major task for the movie team. Managing
the frustration of paper-craft also turned into a teachable moment for some.
Chris Swinko gave us a bunch of peppermint (and other herbs) from the garden.
Jenna was excited to find out how our syrup project was going. So she came
 and watched Eli and Kaden making the first batch of peppermint syrup.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Week 29 -- Flavored Syrups and The Zomedy Pre-Production

Two successful, though 
slightly different, mint syrups.
An unsuccessful attempt at mint syrup.
(It was cooked for too long.)
Most of our homeroom time this week has been devoted to the long-term projects that we started last week. Kaden, Jarod, and Eli have been making flavored syrups, while Owen is working on a written protocol (ie recipe) for the simple syrup that is the base of the flavored syrups. 

Chris Swinko generously offered to let us use herbs from his class garden. So far it's just a lot of sage, but peppermint and spearmint are on the way.

Lisa talked to the class about the importance of accurately documenting each step of the process to enhance repeatability. In the photo, Kaden is making notes on the sage syrup that Eli is developing (not pictured). 

Jarod works on a ginger syrup with help from Kaden.

The whole class movie project, "The Zomedy" is in the pre-production phase; principal photography will hopefully begin next week, but there may be more location scouting and set design that needs to happen first.
Rushil, Owen and Becca going through a plot summary with the class. 
Tentative Scene List (The red line separates Part 1 from Part 2.)

The pre-production team: Becca and Will (sets, props, costumes)
and Maddy and Rushil (script/screenplay).