Field Trips: A Day Out Not A Day Off

Did you know that last year (2016-2017) Mar Vista organized and participated in more field trips than any other elementary school in our school district? This little known fact is something that struck me and stuck with me because it highlights how our teachers go that extra mile and partner with our parents and community to provide enriching and memorable life experiences. We really know how to work together and take advantage of our local resources!

Already this February we have had many grade levels participate in a variety of field trips:

5th graders explored The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. I especially enjoyed my conversation with one parent who went on this field trip and had plans with her child to return to San Jose the next day for a different reason when her child suggested they also return to the museum and explore more. What a great idea!

And, all 2nd graders hiked Niscene Marks State Park in our own backyard, Aptos:

4th graders witnessed this amazing view at the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Here are some benefits of field trips:

  • First hand experience, Primary resources
  • Use of all senses
  • Physical movement
  • Build cultural understanding, tolerance, and empathy
  • Exposure to worlds outside their own
  • Student engagement
  • Conversation with curators, scientists, historians, and other professionals
  • Bond with classmates, shared experiences, work together in groups
  • Build independence away from parents
  • Rich follow up classroom activities, including writing prompts
  • Fun!

Research- based best practices for field trips:

For me, the value of making multiple field trips to the same location is key and exactly what many of our teachers and families do on purpose, especially with our more local excursions.

Finally, I spoke with another parent who suggested that I build in time to attend field trips every year with different grade levels. I absolutely love this idea and am looking forward to making it happen.

How Flexible Grouping Creates Enthusiasm or One More Minute, Pleeease!

As a two year old, my daughter Ella is really starting to become her own person. One of my biggest joys each day is listening to her develop more and more language. While her favorite topic, as the master of the obvious, is to name every single color she sees, her newest phrase is actually making me stop and think: “One more minute, pleeeaase!” It doesn’t matter if we are at the park, the beach, or just watching tv, she begs me to have another minute of the activity.

I can’t help but make the connection between Ella’s pleading for another minute and our students. What if our students begged us for one more minute to write or read? What if our students begged us for one more math problem? How do we recreate that natural enthusiasm and engagement in our classrooms?

Well, just this past week I witnessed this exact phenomenon! I was working with a group of 2nd graders during math. This group of students was clustered together based on their current skills subtracting three-digit numbers. They were ready to go deeper so I showed them how to check their subtraction work with addition. No joke, they were thrilled! One student told me this was so fun and another told me he would teach his mom what he learned that very night. They each worked at their own pace and devoured this newly learned skill in such a delighted and joyful way.

While it is easy to say that we need to make learning fun, one way to do this, which I don’t think is necessarily intuitive, is to meet students where they are. By knowing where our students are in terms of their skills (in other words, by collecting multiple measures and exploring this data) we can then flexibly group students for the purpose of building on those skills.

While I focused on flexible grouping as a way to create enthusiasm, here are articles on additional benefits:

The 100th Day of School

Today Mar Vista celebrated the 100th day of school for the 2017-2018 school year:

This milestone gives students the opportunity to use various mathematical concepts, research the history of the year 100 years ago and what life was like in our area, and just plain have fun. It also serves to help teachers and students build momentum to finish the trimester strong.

Science Share

The Process:

After months of preparation, both inside and outside the classroom, all 4th-6th graders displayed their science fair projects this week. We invited a team of judges to evaluate each project, including our wonderful and happily retired teacher Heidi Schacher. The team selected 20 experiments to learn more about by listening to each of the 20 students present. From there, the panel selected ten that will be moving on to the County Science Fair. Congratulations to all students for doing your best work and participating! Students at all grade levels had the opportunity to survey the scene and explore the projects with their class.

Student Take Aways:

Students told me again and again how they bonded with their families over their project. From going to local farms to collect water used to clean heavy equipment to online shopping for phytoplankton, parents were a huge support for their children. Another theme I heard multiple students discuss is how they based this year’s experiment on something they learned from last year’s topic. For example, one student looked at climate change last year and this inspired her to look more closely at desalinization of water. Ultimately, students were very proud of themselves and for good reason.

My Take Aways:

It was so clear to me that teachers supported their students by explicit instruction of the scientific process in the classroom so students internalized it in such a way that they were able to follow the process while also being creative and making it their own. I was also struck by how students could answer my “so why is this important” question and explain the connection between their project and its larger implications in the world. One student told me that he researched fog harvesters in Chili and realized they were not biodegradable so he wanted to use his project as a launching off point for sustainability. Another student explained how taking the Stroop Effect test can detect early onset Alzheimer’s and help people in a very meaningful way. Our vision as a school is to continue supporting students as scientists and 21st century learners through these types of experiences.

Next Steps:

Check out the Invention Convention.

Wait Time

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 5.24.40 PMBeing home with the flu and the beginning of pneumonia this week has really had me rethinking priorities. While the surgery is behind me my body obviously still had some trauma considering it got hit so hard. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to do nothing and just wait; How waiting itself is an important and extremely challenging practice. I think about my four year old son Connor and how when he asks for a bottle of juice, he hardly has the patience to wait for me to complete the task at hand before screaming four more times. How does this relate back to our students at Mar Vista? Well, before winter vacation, Superintendent Dr. Rodriguez and I walked through most classrooms and I came away thinking about how being patient with our students and giving them time to process and think is a true gift.

What does this look like? It looks like wait time. Wait time is the period of silence between the time a question is asked and the time when one or more people respond to that question. It is so simple, yet so challenging, especially in the classroom setting. Imagine for a moment that you are a classroom teacher with 25 students and you need to allow silence; you need to know that there is learning in silence; that there is production; that there is health. I, for one, can’t imagine anything quite so simple and challenging.

At Mar Vista, our goal is to ask students a question and give them time to ponder. Shifting ourselves to purposely wait 5 seconds rather than the typical 1 second. In this way, we see many changes in the classroom, including:

  • The number of unsolicited but appropriate responses increases
  • Failure to respond decreases
  • Student confidence increases
  • Students ask more questions

Try it at home: Ask a question, wait, and then ask for a response. Remember silence is your friend!

Why Sit When You Can Stand or Bounce?

6th Graders were thrilled to come back to see Mr. J and his new standing desks. Kids can stand or sit on stools while wiggling their feet against the black bar shown above. Mr. J said, “I have seen students more engaged and attentive as a result of being able to stand, having the foot bar to wiggle and fidget with, and sitting on the stools in general. Kids are stoked. They have had a number of appreciations in our class meetings for having the new desks, and they are extremely happy with them. I thought I would hear more complaints without having backs on the stools, but I haven’t heard one yet!” I also found myself staying in Mr. J’s class for a longer period of time because I was so comfortable on the stool using the foot bar. Come by and check them out!img_1488

Ms. Risa also has some awesome seating in room 6! Her 2nd graders stay engaged and focused on these colorful balls.

Benefits of Alternative Seating:

  1. Research shows that exercise and movement strengthens areas of the brain such as the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and corpus callosum and creates neuronal growth, which improves executive and cognitive functions. In other words, exercise and movement grow a stronger brain. 
  2. Standing desks lead to more engaged students. 
  3. Active learning is associated with better grades.
  4. Reduce sedentary behaviors and carry these habits from childhood to adulthood.

With the financial help from the district, Mar Vista is looking forward to continuing to expand alternate seating to more classrooms and the library.