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.
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.
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.”
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!
What is the difference between a cell wall and a plasma membrane? In this great game, you interact with parts of a plant cell. A brief tutorial preps you for the real challenge: matching the names to their physical parts.
How can you turn a white flower into a multi-color flower? The answer is found in the power of capillary action. You can start with the basic experiment here and then branch out to answer your own questions. Some other thoughts: do all flowers react the same way? Does the concentration of food dye matter?
What type of soil do plants like best? Dig up some dirt and use this soil identification worksheet to identify the soil’s percentage of sand, silt, and clay. Be ready to get your hands dirty!
What do you have in common with a seed? Some of our Heroes answered: you need the right environment. It takes time to grow into something big and strong, but it is amazing how much potential is in every seed. You can create a plant light maze and see just how strong a seed is, seeking out light at every turn!
Why are flowers so bright and colorful? This design-your-own flower activity is a wealth of information. It details everything from individual pollinator’s preferences to tricks of a flower petal. Ready for more food for thought? Imagine and describe a world without bees.
In the first two weeks of Quest, the Heroes have tackled all of these challenges and more. They are diligent and hard-working, increasing their perseverance by being gritty through difficult tasks. They ask questions of each other and show kindness by answering others’ queries. With this solid foundation of knowledge, we are excited to start our garden next week!
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
— Margaret Atwood
The Village School Wolves began Session 6 with a spring in their step. As with every start of a session, there are new challenges around every corner as well as old favorites like Core Skills.
Civilization takes us to Ancient Rome. The Heroes will discuss the leadership merits of Cinnatus, Julius Caesar, and Augustus Caesar. The Heroes will evaluate state decisions through religious turmoil, empire rebellion, and ultimately, witness the downfall of a great civilization. It will almost be a re-LEAF to move into early Europe.
The Writer’s Workshop is Pitch a Field Trip. Heroes will learn how to deliver a succinct and effective pitch. The challenge: propose a field trip for Session 7. The studio will vote on the best pitch. This week, we watched the Brightwheel pitch on Shark Tank as a world-class example of a pitch!
In art, the Heroes will participate in a global art exchange this session. They have worked on many techniques throughout the year and will polish one piece of art to share with another classroom from somewhere in the world. We talked about how art can tell a story or share an emotion, and the Heroes are anticipating that they will learn even more during our field trip to the National Art Gallery.
Last, but certainly not least, the Heroes will create a community garden as Quest. They will begin as scientists, learning the basics of plant science, and then transition into actually planning and planting their garden. We are excited to get our hands dirty and find our inner peas in the springtime weather.
What a week! Heroes recorded their official podcasts and debated the merits of Caesar Augustus ingratiating himself as 3rd consul in Rome. They polished scaled drawings and put the finishing touches on their playground models. They enjoyed a yummy CSA lunch on Tuesday and wrote thank you notes as part of our gratitude project. The new game at recess is ‘Infection’. Over 15 badges were awarded at our Badge Ceremony and per tradition, a celebratory dance party occured. And somewhere admist all that, we had an exhibition where the Heroes shared their learning with friends and family.
Exciting announcement! The final votes from the Exhibition have been tallied. All of the Heroes put an exceptional amount of hard work into their designs and all designs would have been a great addition to our playground. Each design received multiple votes, demonstrating the excellent design work, but there was a winner. I’m excited to announce that the “Fallen Down Treehouse” design has won. The design includes a system of ramps leading to a zipline and demonstrated feasibility, creativity, and safety.
And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for the week, the Heroes traveled into D.C. today to learn about African American culture and history, and enjoy the cherry blossom bloom with some paddle boating.
As a child, my cousins and I played “Harry Potter”. We created a Diagon Alley out of cardboard boxes and bought wands and robes. We made class schedules, taught classes, and even assigned homework. It was an imaginative and thrilling experience for us that I was excited to share.
This week, the Heroes traveled to Hogwarts. A quick jump through Platform 9 ¾ and they were instantly transported to the castle. Each Hero was sorted into our very own Village School Houses: Pisces (passion and perseverance), Sparrowflight (work ethic and determination), Bunyiptooh (caring), and Tygeris (responsibility). If the Sorting Hat was placed on your head, where would you end up?
By earning galleons from badges, the Heroes purchased supplies from Diagon Alley. Some adopted pets or adorned stylish capes. When the owls escaped from the Emporium, each Hero rescued an owl and received mail from owl post for the rest of the week.
But it wasn’t all fun and games- the Heroes got down to serious magical business. They cast spells (Spelling), made a potion (Healthy Lifestyle), and divined the future (Aleks Quicktables). In other words, Core Skills took on a new twist. The Heroes got good exercise in PE by chasing after the golden snitch and doing Crossfit Broomstick-style. They discussed civilizations in History of Magic. At the end of the week, they fought off a dementor by creating a strong patronus: a piece of artwork that depicted their spirit animal and a happy memory. We created our own magical education, like many days but this time, literally.
The most magical part of the week, however, was the support that the Heroes showed one another. Heroes are becoming excellent teachers, and are always willing to answer a fellow Hero’s questions. They are navigating how to play games fairly and be considerate towards everyone. They support each other by practicing spelling words together and doing Khan practice problems as a math group. It is inspiring to experience.
Today, the Heroes were researchers as they explored Chessie’s Big Backyard and Tuckahoe Park. Prior to travel, they planned out the day and designated timekeepers to keep track of the time. A shout-out to the diligence and punctuality of the timekeepers as they kept the group on track all day.
Upon arrival, the Heroes split into groups (each ES Hero paired with a Spark Hero) and started their 30 minutes of play time. At precisely 11:30, the Heroes independently collected their clipboards and started to surveyed park-goers. They asked adults and children how frequently they go to parks and whether they thought parks were important. It takes a lot of courage to reach out, and our Heroes took the plunge and displayed their politeness and maturity. There were several celebrations as groups reached their survey participation goals.
The second part of the day was spent at Tuckahoe Park. Heroes again surveyed park-goers and spent some time finding simple machines around the playground. They designed a new playground structure and compared the two playgrounds, all in preparation for creating their own playground element.
At the end of the day, it was a joyous time spent in the sunshine. There were academic challenges and important moments of growth. I saw a Hero reach out and play catch with a young child, gently leading him in play. Another Hero included a 3-year old on the merry-go-round, quickly switching from fast-paced spinning to a gentle turn to support the toddler. Heroes made decisions about what was safe and not- negotiating the play structures and figuring out the safe boundaries to the park as well (within eyesight of a guide).
Today made me think that first and foremost, our Heroes are learning how to think for themselves. I wasn’t asked to manage my time or make decisions about my day until high school, and it felt like responsibility hit me all at once. Imagine in 10 years, our Heroes will have made thousands of critical decisions and what capable individuals they will be.
What is a student-driven learning environment? At TVS, we believe that Heroes should be the driving force behind their education. The guide’s role is to provide an environment: arc of inspiration, empowerment, and accountability, but Heroes make the crucial choices.
So what would happen if the Heroes were left alone for the day? We have a recent example of the Heroes doing just that. (Of course, there were adults supervising just in case! We thank our studio volunteers gratefully for their time.)
Monday morning began with a launch and a fast-paced discussion, which two Heroes devised surrounding an ethical question. Then the Heroes sorted themselves into Super Squads to set SMART goals and coached one another. Then Core Skills commenced: Heroes learning math, reading, spelling, and grammar by teaching themselves. Independently, they transitioned at 11 a.m. and went to a Hero-led P.E. class. They practiced gymnastics and soccer skills. The Heroes enjoyed lunch and free time (an important part of the day) and then two Heroes led a 45-minute Socratic Discussion about Ancient Rome, our Civilization challenge for this week. Following that, another Hero took over and supervised DEAR (drop everything and read) by providing book suggestions and inspiring “What if…?” questions. As a group, they cleaned up their studio and celebrated a Hero birthday at close. An independent, Hero-run day.
On Monday, our team traveled to Austin for the Acton Owner’s Conference. We came with questions and left with more questions (of course) but also reflections, new ideas, and a toy figurine of a tiger. Jeff Sandefer shared this anecdote, “A scientist once studied tigers. He knew everything there was to know about tigers. Until the day that he saw a tiger in the wild. Its beauty and grace astounded him, and he exclaimed, ‘All this time I have been studying tigers in captivity. This wild tiger has shown me that I know nothing about tigers.'”
Big questions abound this session. Are humans wired for empathy? Why are parks and playgrounds important to communities? Of course, the best parts of these questions are not the answers but the process it takes to discover an answer. We were also excited to welcome a new Hero, whose hard work in the Spark Studio has graduated her to the Elementary Studio.
The Heroes were excited to launch the Physics Playground Quest. This Quest covers an introduction to physics deeply rooted in a real problem, “Why are parks and playgrounds important to communities?” The Heroes will design and build a scale model of a new playground element that includes at least 2 simple machines. Along the way, they’ll develop critical thinking skills as they tackle work, force, mechanical advantage, and much more!
This session, the Writer’s Workshop is expanding beyond the traditional writing medium as the Heroes dive into podcasting. Their challenge is to share a story about their local community. Empathy (the character trait of this session) is ingrained into this workshop. Heroes will need to think about all angles of their topics: how do they feel? How do others feel? Can you change feelings? The Workshop incorporates technical aspects of podcasting and emphasizes an important writing trait: voice. This week, we talked about how voice is not just your actual speaking voice, but the unique way that you craft sentences and ideas.
In lieu of drama, Civilization begins anew this session. We are poised at the downfall of the Greeks and the rise of the Romans. The Heroes are particularly excited about the transformation of Greek Gods to Roman Gods. Each week, the Heroes will discuss Socratically and have the opportunity to complete a bonus challenge to earn their Civilization Badge.
We will keep you updated as the Heroes progress through challenges and find success this Session. The Heroes are also looking forward to 3 field trips this session, and we appreciate all the parent volunteers for field trips or studio visits! A note for next week’s field trip- please bring in recyclable materials for the Building Museum field trip by following the guidelines below:
Paper towel rolls, cereal boxes, and egg cartons are great
Please don’t bring any juice or water bottles, glass or metal containers