Mind the Gap: Week 2

Elementary Studio Spotlight

Recently, I’ve been thinking about this famous London tube reminder because it is relevant to these first weeks of building a strong community.

I know that the Heroes are capable of fantastic things. Directing their own learning, upholding community covenants, finding passions, and ultimately changing the world- to name a few. However, at the beginning of the year, the Heroes tend to underestimate their own potential: hence “the gap”.

They have their doubts and that is perfectly normal. For anything new, it takes experience to test your mettle and as a result, build up trust… in yourself.

Untangling knots in a Squad Challenge

Already in Week 2, there are moments that map the road ahead. The quiet Hero who embraced the leadership of a Squad. The Hero who finished a badge that was previously thought to be impossible, demonstrating to himself that hard work pays. The Hero who showed ultimate focus during Core Skills and has already earned a reading badge. The multiple Heroes holding hands and watching out for their buddies during our trip to the pond. 

First Passion Project in our new Maker’s Space

We know that our Heroes are more than capable of great challenges.  And by building on each of these moments, our Heroes believe it more and live it each day.

Climbing to new heights

Starting the Journey: Week 1

Elementary Studio Spotlight

What would you do with a chance? The first week was exciting at The Village School: new Heroes were bursting with energy (a joyful mixture of nerves and anticipation) and returning Heroes made a graceful transition from comfortable norms to embracing change. 

Opening Launch

The Lip Dub Challenge is always a big hit with the Heroes. The published version will be available in the Parent Drive soon! In addition to being a lot of fun, the Heroes practiced collaboration as they negotiated lyrics and dance moves. They gave each other specific feedback and improved the video over 5 drafts! Both of these skills will be essential at The Village School.

The Heroes started their first quest, The Prediction Tools Quest, which explores the question, “Can you determine your future? What actions will increase your success?” This Quest introduces the Heroes to the many tools available to them in their self-directed learning environment, including Freedom Levels, safe usage of Technology, and Town Meeting for community problem-solving.

Session 1 Quest Board

Part of this Quest includes Core Skills. Core Skills are the foundation that every Hero will need for their calling (think math, reading, writing, etc.) This week, the Heroes reviewed math material and started reading. Lots of reading!

A seat with a view of the garden
Story time in Wonder Studio!

A time for community gathering- we have been eating lunch together each day.

We will end our week with Character Call-outs, a time for Heroes to celebrate outstanding character traits. I’ll share some of my own CCs- I saw a Hero put away several stools after discussion showing care for the studio. Another Hero offered encouragement and advice when a fellow traveler was upset- I’d call that empathy. There are so many instances to share, but I’ll end with one last snippet: on the very first part of the Lip Dub Challenge, the Heroes were asked to memorize the song lyrics. I saw a Hero struggle at first, overwhelmed by the newness of the studio and the great task ahead. The Hero started with the first line and after a couple of fits and starts, had memorized most of the song. The Hero demonstrated courage to begin and perseverance to see the task through to the end. It reminded me that you never know how far you’ll get until you start. Or in other words…

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

A Day in the Life: Session 7 Week 4

8:30 Each Hero is greeted at the door during arrival.

Good morning!

9:00 Gather for Mindfulness. A Hero leads a series of partner exercises.

World-Class Example
Almost there!

9:15 Writer’s Workshop is off and running. Today, some Heroes are finishing up their first drafts of a story while others are ready for peer critique.

Warm Cool Warm Feedback

10:45 After a quick brain break, “class” begins! 2 Heroes are reading- one with an audio book and another with a chapter book. Another Hero looks at his work plan and decides what to work on next. Below, 3 different lessons are happening- Level 1 Spelling, Level 2 Spelling, and Level 1 Math. This is an example of our individualized learning in action!

12:00 CSA lunch: connecting our healthy lifestyle program with yummy local food.

Menu: German Potato Salad, Lemon Sausage, and Crunchy Greens

1:00 Quest Launch. This week is Spy Training 101. The Heroes will have to break one code each day, culminating in a final team challenge.

Cracking the Caesar Cipher

2:25 After another good brain break, it’s the start of Math Power ½ Hour. This is a time for everyone to work on math together. It starts with math facts games and then Heroes switch to Khan, Aleks, or Dreambox.

2:55 Heroes clean the studio because taking care of your space is important.

3:15 After a busy day together, we close with an inspiration, connection, or get equipped for tomorrow.


What does a Hero Celebration look like? Session 7: Week 3

Thinking back to our first Exhibition, I remember how everything was organized at the last minute. The group had trouble deciding who would be in charge and how to divide tasks. It took them multiple days to decorate (and some guide assistance).

Before this ceremony even began, I knew how much the Heroes had grown, not just individually but as a group. They wrote their own speeches and gave each other feedback. They sent out formal invitations to families. They decided what the theme would be, what kinds of snacks to make, and then made both of those things happen. This event was created by Heroes.

Our youngest Hero leading an important group discussion about set-up
After purchasing all the supplies, the Heroes broke into groups to prepare
The decorating committee blew up balloons and hung green and white streamers
Setting up chairs with the unwieldy chair cart
“SLOP” Kebabs- Strawberries, Lime, Orange, and Pineapple
Festive drinks and Ants on a Log from Spark Studio
Sharing the Hero’s Journey of this year
The ceremony begins! Heroes share lessons learned and notable experiences
Each Hero receives a Big Character Trait Rock

The Heroes’ Celebration is a time for reflection. Looking at the achievements of the Heroes from every perspective. We don’t just celebrate badges earned. We celebrate the growth that each badge took to achieve and the everyday experiences that shape you into the person that you are today. To all the Heroes out there, we hope that you continue to grow and flourish on your Hero’s Journey!

Why time? Session 7: Week 2

“We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.” -Earl Nightingale

At open house on Wednesday, a prospective parent asked me an interesting question. “Why does the time matter so much?” It is a great and often pondered question. The answer is that time, and the way we treat it, is essential to our community.

Enjoying the beautiful weather

Time is our most valuable resource. We can’t buy more hours or reuse days passed. I promise to value the Heroes’ time by starting each launch exactly on time (the exact second). It respects the people who are on time, and reinforces punctuality. I promise the Heroes that a launch will not exceed 15 minutes. In fact, they can get up to leave if we go over 15 minutes. This practice emphasizes that the Heroes’ time is valuable. The work that they are doing (and the time it takes) is important. When someone values your time, it is a strong affirmation: you are valued as a person.

Teamwork is essential when building marble roller coasters

Timing is necessary for a second reason: everyone has choices. At the Village School, we accept that we are on a hero’s journey. That means that you have the freedom to choose, and those choices have consequences. A hero may run to get water just before a launch and return 5 seconds late. The consequence of that choice is that hero is asked not to participate in the launch. A hero may be working on an assignment and not be keeping track of the time. We would call that a passive choice because the hero could have taken action, like setting a timer or wearing a watch. You can choose to be on time.

Hands-on design challenges develop an engineering mindset

People say, “Life happens!” That’s true- our adherence to punctuality may seem borderline neurotic. And yet, Heroes know that great responsibility comes with great freedom. It is better to fail cheaply with responsibility when the consequences are small. Then you have more experience for next time. You know more and are equipped with better strategies. Overall, this mindset reinforces a Hero mentality: you happen to life, life does not happen to you.

Research trip to George Mason Library!

You have a calling and you can change the world.

Curiosity: Session 7 Week 1

How did each state get its name?

What happens if evil elves take over the universe and a team of kittens and rabbits has to stop them?

How did the Greek alphabet arise?

One final question- has your curiosity been sparked? Welcome to the start of Session 7! Here are all the ways our Heroes are getting curious this session…

Civilization is a “DYI Historian” project (or in other words, Hero-driven research). This week, the Heroes explored the connection between the South Fork and Los Angeles dam failures and answered the question, “Does history repeat itself?” Then they devised their own questions to research, like “Why are minor Roman gods called ‘minor’ if they actually have big impacts?” and “How did the letters of the Greek alphabet get their names and shapes?”.

The research path

In Writer’s Workshop, the Heroes are taking on the role of children’s book authors with a twist- the illustrations are already drawn! They’ll be using an online program, Storybird, to piece together their stories. Today, we talked about Freytag’s Pyramid (or a useful way to develop your plot). Ask your Hero if it is similar to the Hero’s Journey! Many Heroes already had a multitude of ideas and have spent hours drafting.

Tracking sheet for Writer’s Workshop

Our quest is the inspiration for this session’s character trait: Building Curiosity. We will be exploring geography, engineering, code-breaking, architecture, and baking in one-week bursts. The goal is to provide an introduction to a wide range of topics and hopefully, spark a new passion or area of intrigue. This week’s topic was geography where the Heroes took on the 50 State Challenge. In just 3 days, they memorized the location and names of as many states as they could, and in the process, practiced valuable memory retention techniques and dealt with frustration and set-backs. Next week, they will design marble roller coasters!

Each Quest has multiple levels so everyone in our multi-age studio can be fully immersed in the challenges!

One new change for Session 7 is that a new system has been introduced to Elementary Studio. Before break, the Heroes noticed an increase of distractions during Core Skills time and created a list outlining what was distracting so that everyone was on the same page. Looking for a reasonable consequence, we introduced the marble jars. Each Hero will start with 5 marbles every week. If a Hero is being distracting, then another Hero may ask for a marble. This week, the community had a renewed vigor to keep the studio as a sacred learning place.

Thanks for tuning in!

Fixing your Mistakes: Session 6 Week 6

This week, the Heroes dropped a plate during the cleanup of CSA lunch. At the time, I was in the studio. If I hadn’t wandered into the kitchen to check on the progress, I wouldn’t have known that the incident occurred. And that is kind of a remarkable thing.

One hero was already on the way to fetch a broom and dustpan. Another hero warned, “You shouldn’t walk around in those flip-flops; you could get hurt.” The broom arrived when a third hero observed, “I see shards all the way across the floor, so make sure to sweep all around.” They stated any advice that I would have offered. In 5 minutes, everything was picked up.

Practicing teamwork and collaboration

The Heroes didn’t come to get an adult because they didn’t need an adult. Something had broken. They knew how to solve the problem. And they fixed it. Simple.

Elementary and Spark partnership in the Community Garden Quest

I thought back to my elementary school, even later school years, and I can’t remember a single time I broke something in school. Not because I was a particularly careful child, I don’t think that I was ever given the chance.

Perhaps for the best, a school doesn’t want to have to budget for 500 new plates every year. But I wonder about the bigger picture too: how many times was I given the chance to fail cheaply? Where were the opportunities that I had real responsibility and messed it up, then could fix it?

Time for focus and fun!

This is a school where students are learning that it is okay to fail because they have the power to make things better. Will another plate get broken? Maybe, but I imagine that the Heroes will be more careful next time. More importantly, they demonstrated that they know it is okay to fail and they are capable of fixing it. I think that is worth every penny for a new plate.

R&R Day: Session 6 Week 5

A portrait of one hero: she is the first one with her laptop open post-launch. She is intently focused at her desk. Her work pattern alternates between math and reading, logging the hours to perfecting her skills. She is patiently waiting for the day her first badge goes onto the wall!

We hope every single one of our Heroes embraces this work ethic and focus. But after many months dedication and grit, it was time for a “Relax and Recharge” or R&R Day. We work hard and play hard too.

Early morning hopscotch
A round of Apples to Apples
Planting our garden!
The only photo I was able to take in our soccer game because we were running up and down the field!

What’s in a question? Session 6 Week 4

What can we learn about our CSA?

My role in the studio is to be a Socratic guide, not a teacher. I love to illustrate this point by telling people, “It’s in my contract that I can’t answer questions!” As a result, this year I have spent a lot of time asking (and analyzing) my questions. If there was a P.h.D in inquiry, I’m ready for my dissertation.

Which environment do worms like best?

Here are what I consider the most common types of questions:

Predetermined: This is a statement posed as a question. You are asking someone but in reality, telling them what to do. It is often fully illustrated with voice emphasis. Examples- “Do you think that is a good idea?” “Is that a safety concern?”

Fun aside. Heard in the studio this week from a Hero, “Are you talking or are you working?”

2 concrete choices: This one has determined outcomes, but there is still choice. It can be extremely helpful when a hero is overwhelmed or unfocused.  Choices like, “Would you like to put on your coat or pack up your backpack?” or “What will you work on next- Khan or Lexia?”

Evaluating: This question is the mainstay of discussions. It asks someone to compile the information learned and create an opinion. For example, “At its peak, what would have been the greatest aspect of living as a Roman? The brilliant minds innovating all around you, the mighty military that protected you, a government that was ethical and cared about you and your wishes, or the rest of the world wanting to join your culture, or infrastructure (buildings, roads, bridges, and aqueducts)?” Especially in Civilization, these questions provoke excitement as the stakes are raised. Sometimes, we even use a random number generator to “rewrite history”!

Truly Wondering: These questions stem from authentic curiosity. Often, children (and adults) have brilliant ideas that are packaged into endless stories or run-on, tangent, off-the-mark conclusions. It is easy to jump to the conclusion but I love when a truly wondering question illuminates a new perspective.

Personal: We play a game during the first week of each session. I earn a point if a Hero asks me a question that could be answered through the 3Bs (brain, buddy, blinks) and the Heroes earn points when I answer a question. It is a tough contest with only 7 points being scored this spring, but they always get me with a cheerful, “How are you this morning Ms. Sarah?” To be fair, I think that it is probably an okay question to answer, but a contract is a contract.

Serial Questioning: This series of questions is asked to lead the student down a line of rational thinking. Often it starts very broad and then returns to the original question. It is an excellent way to illustrate your thinking to another person without explicitly stating it. A train of thought could be, “Do you think it is important to keep the environment clean and healthy? What would happen if everyone threw litter on the ground? Do the same rules apply to inside as outside? Would you be unhappy if no one used the trashcan and just left their trash on the floor? Is it okay for you to leave your trash on the floor?”

Answering a question with a question: After all this thought, it turns out that it is fairly easy to answer a question using a question. “Do we have free time before Writer’s Workshop?” Answer- “Does it say that on the schedule?” “Could I use this ruler?” Answer- “Would that be a reasonable thing to do?”

To close, I love this quote from Laura Sandefer in regards to questions, “I am now grateful to be surprised. With surprise comes a sense of wonder, a sense of risk and flying off into the unknown, ready to self-correct when needed.”

What do you think about farm life?

Celebrating the Process: Session 6 Week 3

Celebrations have spontaneously erupted this week. (To be more specific, celebrations occur normally, but this week has been more than usual.) As we near the end of our year, the Heroes’ hard work is paying off. There were so many badges earned in the first 2 weeks of this session that a mid-session Badge Celebration was added.  In our time-honored tradition, we brought out the ladder and announced Heroes’ accomplishments. The music played and a mini-dance party funneled the out-pouring of emotions.

But it would be a shame to only focus on the moment of success. Hours of work go into a badge. Practice problems followed by mastery challenges, Lexia syllable parsing into full text analysis- each completed skill adding to the overall accomplishment. The process is long and arduous. While it is fun to celebrate the moment of success, it is only a moment. There is so much more benefit in enjoying the process.

There are many examples of Heroes celebrating the journey: a Hero instructing another Hero on a tough math problem, and both are laughing. A Hero in the “flow” reading on the beanbag, fully concentrating, and immersed in the experience. Three Heroes clustered around a laptop as they give feedback and point out grammatical errors on a Hero’s persuasive writing. The very act of being in the same room with a community ready to learn.

Of course, the process is not always enjoyable in the “fun” sense of the word. Heroes experience setbacks, often and small and difficult in the moment. As much as we repeat, “It is better to fail cheaply, often and now,” that mantra is hard to appreciate when you are the one struggling.

That is why it is important to redefine failure. Heroes know that failure is not a bad thing, it is an essential stepping stone to success. When you hear about a major accomplishment, you know that there were hours, days, weeks of struggles leading up to that moment. The Heroes keep this truism in mind, and voted that between celebrating the moment of success and celebrating the process, each part is equally important!