Sciences: Much of what we choose for our main themes comes from the Sciences and Social Studies. These topics are often embedded in one another. In learning about the cultures and peoples of the world so much else comes into play. In studying about the salmon we raise yearly, we learn about the lives of the people who first populated this region. In this way, we touch on not only the biology of the life cycle but on the stories that were originally told to explain their return to their original spawning grounds. When learning about discovering the North and South Poles, we studied geography of the region and biological adaptation. We learned about basic aspects of astronomy while contrasting one century’s explorations to another. The ability to teach topics thematically across the disciplines preserves their integrity and supports the young child in making sense of a situation or construct.
Sources that Inform Our Curriculum
The Curriculum in Action:
Force and Motion 2016
The following was posted on the Lake and Park’s blog, the Ampersand, on June 6th 2016.
Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) learning has a lot to say about what makes for effective, engaging STEM education. Among the key factors: it capitalizes on students’ early interests and experiences, identifies and builds on what they know, and provides opportunities to engage in the practices of science and mathematics to sustain their interest. In other words, throughout their schooling, students should learn to investigate questions about the world that they come across in daily life, in much the same way that scientists and mathematicians do. (successfulSTEMeducatgion.org)
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Framework goes on to emphasize that: “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K–12 science education.”
A Teacher’s Perspective
What was your favorite study this year at school? For me it has to be the classic answer, “The one we are in right now”. Isn’t that the truth? As teachers there is so much to enjoy in our thematic approach at Lake and Park. It allows for creativity, collaboration, thoughtful study and personal expression. It is important for us to embrace flexibility and be responsive to children’s needs and interests. In many ways we never feel finished, though it is exciting to begin again and watch the momentum build as each child engages in a new topic in their own way. I admire the courage I witness every day as children take the risk and delve into answering an open-ended exploration. “Is water alive?” or “What might happen when we roll two different size balls down the same track?”
Teachers at Lake and Park are asked to take risks also. We delve into subjects that may not be an area of expertise and we learn alongside the children. We are asked to try new things; we challenge ourselves and support each other. Our study of physics and the evolution of scientific thought is an example of learning by doing for all of us.
Meaningful Professional Enrichment
In the summer of 2015 Quynh Cao and I were by the National Science Teachers Association to participate in a weeklong training program, The National Teachers Academy. We flew to Nw Jersey in late July and spent a week at the Liberty Science Center with teachers from forty-eight states, working through ideas about best practices in teaching science as they relate to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The focus of our week was Newton’s Laws of Force and Motion. It was an engaging week of hands-on exploration and we knew the children at Lake and Park would learn so much during a study centered around this topic.
Laying the Groundwork
When Quynh and I sat down to begin planning the study for Lake and Park we thought about Newton in a historical context: Newton was born in 1642. Who were the scientists that influenced him and how has scientific thought continued to develop since then? We knew literature groups could engage in learning about the lives and contributions of scientists. Are there any universal character traits of scientists?
As we posed these questions in our various classrooms: What do scientists do? How are they alike?. Initial responses were long. Details were added as knowledge grew. Students began to identify when they were taking on some of these traits themselves.
Structure for Exploration
Quynh took the lead running the Physics Lab. Each day she set up different experiences and materials for students to explore. Teacher led group discussions guided inquiry. Quynh was careful to ask questions, rather than telling the “why”, thereby not revealing too much, making sure that the vital discovery piece, so pivotal to deeper understanding was reserved for each child. Students observed, collected data, made hypotheses, and experimented while working collaboratively in small groups. This approach was student driven, based on an individual’s curiosity and experience. Room–time and space– was provided for student-led discoveries.
While Quynh worked with classes throughout the school, her homeroom students worked with me to create demonstrations that illustrated a principle or explored a law or conducted an experiment. Projects were developed and tested in class. As the oldest students were asked to present their work to others, the opportunities for peer teaching and for guiding younger students brought social skills into play.
Developing Historical Context
Quynh’s class also read and discussed the evolution of scientific thinking with Camille Hayward, reading several books on Galileo, Newton and Einstein as a means of learning about the history of scientific thought. This was a wonderful opportunity for Camille to work directly with the Intermediate students. Across the grades, students read biographies of the scientists mentioned above and many others The study contained many highlights as well as collective and individual “Aha” moments.
Physics on Wheels Comes to Lake and Park
As a part of this unit, The Pacific Science Center Physics on Wheels program came to school for a day. The visit included individual classroom workshops and a lab space filled with demonstrations and experiments.
Newton’s Rainbow Made More Evident
The Hawking Family worked at home to master Newton’s rainbow, and then demonstrated the experiment they had created to small groups of children. This inspired further investigation into light and color and optics.
Maudie James and I developed a space for the whole student population to “tinker in”. Equipped with tape and tubes and pulleys and hooks, marbles and velcro, The Tinker Lab remains busy most days with children creating inventions, and working on challenges involving force, motion, and velocity. Thank you to everyone for making it possible by cleaning out closets and garages and sharing your treasures and purchasing tape. After making an invention or machine, children draw a model of it and tell a teacher about it so that ideas are written down. Often the project is named. Those who can write, describe it in their own terms.
Asking a Scientist
As the study was coming to a close we had one more amazing opportunity. As each class learned about working scientist Dr. Stephen Hawking we were invited to submit some questions to him directly for his consideration. He will respond back to our specific queries.We will gather as a school in the fall to hear his replies to such thoughts as: What would happen if the earth stopped spinning? Do black holes benefit earth in anyway? If you could explore anywhere, where would you go?
Gaining Background on Dr. Hawking
When we came together to share and celebrate our common learning, George told us about Hawking’s current work to which George had been introduced to this spring. He graciously answered questions.
Timeline of Scientific Thinking
The Upper Primary students each researched a specific scientist, from Archimedes to Hawking, creating a timeline of scientific thinking which they presented at an All School Meeting. By this point, everyone was working as a scientist. It was exciting to take a moment to look around the room and wonder who might possibly make the next major scientific breakthrough at some point in the future.
On the same day as the Timeline Presentation students visited the Science Fair as presented by Quynh’s class.
Big Ball Play
The day ended with children rolling very big balls out in the grassy meadow of Mt. Baker Park and riding bikes, perhaps with a greater understanding of how that bicycle stays upright when in motion and why that ball might come to a stop.
As for this summer? I know teachers are planning on more professional development experiences, exploration and reflection.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
T.S. Eliot from Four Quartets
The following was posted on the Lake and Park’s blog, the Ampersand, on January 16, 2013.
One of the many benefits of teaching children for multiple years is the frequent opportunity to revisit a topic, or apply existing knowledge to a new situation. We ask children to use the knowledge they have all the time. Whenever we begin a new topic of study it is common practice to ask children what they already know about that topic. Learning is about making connections and making an idea your own. When we can revisit shared knowledge as a community of learners it continues to build our community and makes it stronger. This happened in the halls of Lake and Park just last week.
Observing the salmon tank in anticipation of the eggs arrival.
It was our first week back after the New Year and we were all anticipating the arrival of the Coho salmon eggs for the big fish tank in the hallway. The tank had been placed in the hallway and filled with water shortly after the Thanksgiving break. During that month the water needed to be cooled and stabilized at about 48 F, and the proper PH, ammonia, nitrate and nitrate levels established for optimum fish growing conditions. During this time our study of conifers inDecember provided another way to look at the salmon habitat in the Northwest with a deeper understanding.
Learning about the harvested salmon eggs at the hatchery.
The day before we set out to the Issaquah Salmon hatchery to pick up our salmon eggs we asked the question, “what do all living things need to live on earth and how will we provide those for the salmon eggs?” The students’ hands shot up to provide part of the answer. As some studentsremembered the requirements all habitats must provide to sustain life, they also remembered work they did researching and writing their biome projects last spring. Students who joined this group in September were engaged in learning from their peers.
Learning from the experts at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.
Students look for the five essentials in the natural habitat.
The five essentials are: 1. Air, 2.water, 3.food, 4.shelter, and 5. space. Many children have observed the tank both before and after the eggs were placed in it. As we look carefully, observe and wait, we can think of our role and responsibility in helping these eggs grow into the fry we will release in a stream this spring. For the next couple of months students will check on the temperature and other aspects of water quality in the tank, and when the time comes we will begin to feed the fry. We all anticipate our trip to release the young salmon into a stream. We plan to work on a habitat restoration project. We will record and graph our data about the tank. We will observe and draw and paint what we see happening in the tank. We will keep journals, writing down our thoughts, questions and responses to the changes in the fish tank. The salmon project has brought a special energy to our hallway and will continue to do so for several months to come. Please stop by and take a look.
A Study of Botany
The following was posted on the Lake and Park’s blog, the Ampersand, on November 9, 2017.
“What is a botanist?” Asked students and teachers in early September as we embarked on a long study of botany. Learning that botany is the study of plants, children and teachers considered how one could best study plants.
“By going outside and looking at the leaves!”
“By drawing the trees”
“By getting some books about plants.”
“By finding some plant experts.”
And so we did.
Curious about the variety of plant species living in our neighborhood, students throughout the school ventured through the neighborhood collecting leaves, seeds and sticks. We sorted our collections at school, pressed leaves and paged through colorful guidebooks to identify as many leaves as possible. Looking at a collection of colorful leaves and seed pods upon a white piece of paper made us realize how expansive plant life is.
“I realized that when you look around and pay attention you’ll find more interesting leaves.” -Caroline
“I wonder how many different types of plants there even are.” -Finn T.
“I wonder how many flowers are in the world?” -Tillie
As we familiarized ourselves with plant families, we learned to characterize leaves by their shape, margins and size. We learned the difference between flowering and non-flowering plants as well as monocots and dicots. We learned about gymnosperms and angiosperms; seeds and spores. We counted the number of deciduous trees and coniferous trees on our walk to the park. How had we climbed, sat beneath and walked through these trees day after day without knowing their identities? We slowly grew to see the trees differently; as individuals. With this shift in our perspective, we also gained confidence and expertise in identifying a variety of species. With a closer examination of our collections, a flood of questions arose:
“I wonder how the first seed got to the earth.” -Devin
“I wonder how flowers get their color.” – Ken
“I wonder what plants eat.” – Leah.
“The most interesting leaf I found had a leaf miner trail.” -Gus S.
“How did plants evolve for there to be such variety?” Wondered the North Room students. Awed by the monstrous size of horsetails and ferns, the students competed to find the largest leaf and traced the evolution of plants back to the carboniferous period. As we looked closely at the structure of leaves with magnifying glasses, we noted their small veins and considered their purpose. A study of the process of photosynthesis followed, which was read about and acted out throughout the school.
“Why are so many plants green?” We wondered as we looked at the beautiful assortments of leaves we collected each day on walks to and from the park. We soon learned about chlorophyll and the anatomy of plants. We learned about the role of roots and how leaves absorb carbon dioxide as well as how plants communicate with one another.
“Plants send out roots to sense the space around the so they can adapt to their environment.” -Rhea
Inspired by the work of Beatrix Potter, a beloved children’s author and botanist, we sat between the flowers in our garden and quietly beneath trees in Mt. Baker Park and painted what we saw. Like Beatrix, we imagined characters such as Peter Rabbit, hopping into our painted scenes. Children in the North Room wrote stories in the style of Beatrix Potter and put on puppet shows of their favorite stories for the younger grades.
As we read the wonderful literature of Beatrix Potter, we also listened to the poetry of Margaret Wise Brown and Christina Rossetti that so frequently focus their words around the natural world. This poetry inspired countless illustrations and performances. Students in the North room wrote haiku poems to convey the transition from summer to autumn evident by the falling leaves. Big Room students wrote cinquian poetry to describe the characteristics and symmetry of leaves. Children in the Beginning classrooms danced and sang songs about leaves falling from trees.
“The sprinkling rain
falls in sheets of cold wetness
on slight, tinted leaves.”
Curious about the actual work of botanists and what greater purpose their work serves, we visited the the herbarium at the University of Washington and visited with the botanist there. We wondered, “Why would someone want to be a botanist?” “Why is it important to study plants?” At the herbarium, we opened cabinets full of folders containing 23,000 different species of plants from around the world. We learned about the medicinal qualities of certain plants and the peculiarities of others. The botanist there explained how she carefully pressed the specimens to preserve them, which inspired the upstairs children to create their own collections of plants. We worked for weeks to collect, identify and preserve leaves of various types.
With the leaves on the trees falling around us, it felt natural to head outdoors and engage with the leaves. The youngest children raked piles and transported leaves along the boulevard with wheelbarrows.
Older children looked closely at the colors of changing leaves and created leaf art in the park with inspiration and guidance from the Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy.
Others traveled to Pratt to learn how to make botanical prints with the guidance of local artists. Through the different forms of art created from found leaves, we wondered, “How can we capture the beauty of a leaf?” And, “What is it about leaves that feels so engaging?”
Though our school-wide study of botany will come to end, our newfound appreciation for the complexities of plant life will remain with us throughout the school year and throughout our lives. We’ll likely never walk through a forest again without a curiosity for the trees. We’ll never look at a flower or leaf quite the same way. We’ve all developed an eye for the subtleties of nature. As Rowan put so nicely, the study of plants is never over:
“I liked learning about plants and botany because there’s always more stuff to learn about it. It’s a whole cycle. It never gets old. There’s never an ending. Nature will always be on the earth. Maybe someone one day will find a new plant that no one knows about.”