Understanding Thematic Learning through a Study of the Ocean: A Photo Essay

Weaving the layers of the sea.
At Lake and Park our thematic approach to learning creates a culture that benefits students in many ways.  Thematic learning is a comprehensive, integrated approach that supports students reaching fluency in the basic skills of reading, writing and math. At the same time, it promotes a scientific mindset and encourages use of the arts to deepen understanding, foster communication and express ones feelings about any given topic.  Because teachers work collaboratively, we can all work from a place of our strengths and interests while supporting students across the grades.  We maintain a flexible schedule that allows for extended learning periods, deep exploration of a topic, and many opportunities for students to take risks, gain practice, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job completed.  The success of this approach rests on careful planning and work behind the scenes, which allows the days to flow and all of the adults to be fully present and engaged with children throughout the school day.  We can then be spontaneous and meet individual needs of children, while at the same time allowing the children to lead the way.
Students reference books throughout a given study. Here Gavin
checks on the color and shape of the whale he is studying.
Looking at our recent Ocean Study it is possible to see many examples of student learning, reaching, and growing in progress.  In literacy students read a variety of books, from biographies of Charles Darwin, Jacques Cousteau and oceanographer Sylvia Earle, to classic stories like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Jumbilees, and Rudyard Kipling’s short story  How the Whale Got His Throat and Pearl Buck’s The Big Wave.  Students across the grades read nonfiction books to research particular ocean creatures.  With clear purpose and strong motivation students spent hours reading about the ocean, the creatures that live in the ocean and people that live near the ocean gaining confidence and fluency and often surpassing their own expectations.

Students were inspired to write poetry and creative stories about the ocean.
Children respond to experiences and reflect on time in the field when they return to school.

Math skills take on new meaning when connected to real world learning. How many fish can be caught in the ocean while we still maintain healthy fish populations?
 How long is a blue whale and how does it compare to an Orca whale?  One class may measure the size of the whales yet all of the students learn as they walk by the sidewalk graph.
Science is happening everywhere.  The Beginning Room children respond to the prompt, “can you shape the clay so it will float?”
 Primary students expereince cold water with and without the added insulation of blubber as they imagine whales and other sea mammals swimming in the cold waters of Puget Sound.
Upper Primary students examine and disect squid as they focus their study of the ocean around chephalapods.

Children learn about the water cycle as they chart the journey of an individual raindrop.

They learn to do water monitoring and record the data to share with students everywhere.

Students explore the physical world.
Moving, running and jumping.
Whale watching was an opportunity to observe amazing phenomena.
And students also observed ocean life up close.
Students look at photoplankton at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center with our National Center for Science Education science partner, Mary Fisher.

Students use science journals to collect data, make observations and consolidate their thinking.

Everyone extends their learning through work in the field and reflection in the classroom.

Morgan’s class joined Camille’s class to learn about SCUBA rescue from the Seattle Fire Department.

Back in the classroom students used pictures and words to retell the story of their experience with the SCUBA divers.

Students across the elementary grades met with the head of the University of Washington Fish Collection to learn about adaptations and how scientists study and catalog the ocean’s fishes.

Then it was time to try and identify some fish based on physical characteristics.

After weeks of exploration and time at school researching and writing and creating displays it was time to share what was learned.

The Ocean Museum opened for students and families.

Classes presented to one another.

And to parents and friends.

Students felt honored by the attention and careful listening offered by parents and teachers and children.

The whole community came together to learn about the ocean. We will continue to celebrate our learning through music and art.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
                                                          Jacques Cousteau