Baby Wyatt Teaches Me A Lesson

On February 23rd, my sister gave birth to her first child. Meeting my niece this weekend was such a joyful experience, especially since it was the first time I felt comfortable with an infant and wasn’t completely exhausted. Watching my sister and brother-in-law talk to each other and with the nurses about their questions, concerns, and plan to meet the baby’s needs, got me thinking about how in life, literally from day one, we cannot survive in isolation but rather must be supported through the work of a village.

Bringing this to the school setting, it means that an essential part of preparing our students to be active members of this village includes preparing them to be communicative and collaborative, which is highlighted as a key feature of our Common Core State Standards:

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 8.17.34 PM

Here are some recent examples of our students learning how to work collaboratively with a common purpose that reaches beyond a single subject area. 

  • 1st graders work on an engineering unit where they build physical replicas to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function.
  • 4th Graders plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate.
  • First Graders work together to make a salad from our garden and share it with students at other grade levels.


Got Goals?

Over the past week our district data coach, Anne Childers, spent some time on campus working with students, teachers, and admin around individualized student goal setting with a focus on math. After working through the goal setting process, students identified barriers and supports to their learning. What stood out for me is how goal setting creates an intersection between academic, social, and emotional development. Many of the barriers and supports to individualized learning goals were not academic in nature but rather social and emotional. Ultimately, our purpose in brining in data points is to support students in understanding themselves as learners. Our hope is to increase each student’s awareness of their own strengths and areas of growth to self-advocate as a learner.

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.