Learning to Be: Session 6 Week 5

The morning starts with mindfulness and then we launch into a story about the ripple effects that kindness can have. Heroes have a lively discussion about how they can change the world by sharing language and acts of kindness. They each drop a pebble into a bowl of water as they share a time where they witnessed themselves or a fellow hero being that positive change, and we all watch the ripples emanate from the stone.

From there, heroes are off setting daily goals and doing work of meaning. Fractions at the math table and writing stories of castles and of course, sea creatures. Then comes the free times of our day when play and imagination take over. Free, unstructured play is crucial for children to build the skills they’ll need to be happy, productive adults. These opportunities help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions and solving problems. These games include pretending to be firefighters, animals, superheroes or a rock band. What our heroes are learning is how to work in groups, negotiate, share, self-advocate, and make decisions.

After working hard, checking in with goals and navigating various social settings our heroes wind down to reflect. We play kindness mad-libs and give each other compliments about what went well that day and the gifts that each hero brings to our community. Equipped with tools and skills in mindfulness, aspiration, grit, and empathy our heroes continue on the journey that awaits them!

What do you do with a problem?Session 6 week 4

Have you ever had a problem? What about a problem so big that you just wished it would go away? The longer the problem is avoided, the bigger it seems to get. Spark studio read a story that inspired them to look closely at a problem and to find out why it’s there. Sometimes you might discover something amazing about your problem… and yourself.

Most young people aren’t looked at or referred to as heroes. They spend most of their day being ordered about, with little say.  They never have to make decisions because people tell them what to do. Here, in spark studio, ideas are heard and respected. There is a great deal of freedom within limits. Heroes choose how they will manage morning work time. They choose where to sit, when to have a snack, and who to collaborate with on math facts and reading practice. Our space is curated to meet the needs and follow the interests of each individual in our community.

These freedoms, realistic expectations, and boundaries make up our studio culture but they are not set up to prevent problems. It is intentional that there is only one of many works and that some parts of our schedule are set at precise times. As in life, conflicts are bound to arise. Spark studio heroes discuss the big and small challenges that they face and how each time they deal with these it gets easier to move on. We brainstorm strategies for dealing with problems. Heroes are heard making suggestions like “Don’t give up now, just try it a different way” or “Maybe you could swing for five minutes and then give her a turn.” The approaches to dealing with these issues turns these challenges into opportunities for respect and empathy.

The problems of a five year old look different than the stresses and difficulties of an adult but they can be equally as daunting and meaningful for our heroes. Sometimes the lessons I have planned get pushed to the side because someone took the tape when another hero REALLY needed it. In these often arduous moments, the heroes come together and use the conflict resolution techniques they’ve learned and discussed. They face these issues with great courage and I am reminded that problems are really just opportunities for growth.

Session 6 Week 3: What makes a hero?

The learning process is inspired by many when everyone in your school is a fellow traveler on their own hero’s journey. Can your heroes change? Spark studio discussed the idea and decided that they absolutely could. Just like friends, it is o.k. to have as many heroes as you like! Maybe your hero changes after reading a book about a passionate journey into space and the challenges of being one of the first female astronauts. Your hero could change after you watch a fellow traveler complete 3 math lessons in a morning, because you want to be able to accomplish that too! ” I am my own hero because I never give up” another hero declared.

Heroes can also be found across the hallway from spark studio in the elementary. Quest work this week included our young gardeners becoming part of a seed team. This meant holding a nail while someone hammered into the wood of a garden bed. It also required compromising on what plants should go next to others in the square foot garden they were designing. They chatted about favorite vegetables and herbs that tasted like soap or smelled good and made them feel calm. While upholding the discussion rules can sometimes be a challenge for our youngest heroes, they are pushed to higher standards and conversations are elevated as they look to our older heroes as leaders.

While looking up to various heroes and developing their own ideas about what it means to be one, each person in spark studio has a chance to share their ideas. Being heard is an important part of community and our heroes value sharing interests and gifts with the world. This takes the form of creative artwork and stories that don’t fit into one book, but instead are broken into a three part series. They collaborate and decide who will write about each zone of the deep sea and they organize thoughts before they delve into topics that they care deeply about. Gratitude is practiced by writing thank you notes grit is exercised as new lessons are tackled. Each day bringing new challenges in social skills and self regulation, our heroes show each other support even when it takes patience. They are each developing the the courage and curiosity needed as they continue on their own hero’s journey.

Plant Scientists Session 6 week 2

“A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the the hope of greening the landscape if an idea.”   – John Ciardi, American poet

There is nothing quite like the magic of watching a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis. It is maybe only topped by watching that same butterfly fly free or land on your finger! As plant scientists our heroes did a great deal of this close looking and observation this week. Heroes also felt worms wiggle from the mud into their palms. They watched one another other curl up on the floor pretending to be seeds,extending legs as roots and hands as leaves and petals stretching tall towards the sun- first on their own and then deciding they wanted to repeat it only together this time! They operated pretend restaurants called “Sunflower City” and “Blossoms” while other heroes acted as pollinators and ordered flowers that had smells, petal size and colors that attracted them.

This week heroes were inspired by stories of heroes like Jacques Cousteau who explored underwater worlds and shared his passion for protecting ocean life with the world. We all continue to marvel at the research done in Antarctica and the creatures in the deep sea regions all over. Spark Studio heroes methodically practiced measuring in centimeters and inches as our bean plants seemed to (and in some instances did) grow overnight! They continue to ask questions and share their curiosity with fellow travelers.

Our tight knit group works continuously to understand the needs of our community. Sometimes this takes the form of not telling a hero how to spell a word, but showing them where they can find it instead. Other times this means letting someone know that they are not being clear or that they are distracting their work. Such requests were met with flexible answers like “let me say it a different way” and “okay, we will roll the dice more quietly”. The days end in reflection and each kindness and character trait is called out and recognized as the heroes appreciate one another along their journey.

After exploring plant life, heroes are excited to dig in and begin our garden next week!

“I want to do an experiment!” Session 6 begins!

“I want to do an experiment!” a young hero exclaimed! Session 6 has started off with excitement. Our botany quest has included some scientific questioning and hands on discovery and some heroes have expanded on these ideas and developed experiments all their own. You start with a sense of wonder and then, after playing around with ideas and systems, you decide to create something entirely new. As a guide, an exclamation like this leads to asking questions like: what materials do you need? what do you hope to discover and what outcome do you predict?

Heroes practiced “close looking” in art and continued these techniques in quest time observing veins in leaves, liquid in stems, and granules and sediments in soil. Heroes wrote stories and joyously shared the fun things they did while away from school. They enjoyed new books on our shelves and made equations at our math provocation table. We read and discussed hero stories about artists like Vincent Van Gogh who worried sometimes but felt calmed by painting the way light looked on rolling hills and Katie Bouman who worked hard and followed her passion to form an algorithm to create an image of a black hole!

We wrapped up the week with a trip to into D.C. After using the map to navigate the art museum, heroes sketched the shapes they saw in Georgia O’ Keefe paintings and pondered where artists get their inspiration. They marveled at interactive exhibits and discussed the art they like to create. After lunch next to the reflecting pool, we explored endangered plants and cacti from some of the countries we studied in our studio! Heroes even got to do some planting and watering in the Children’s garden before braving the rainy walk back to the metro!

Session 5 Grand Finale

What a busy week for heroes in the Spark Studio. We had a hero complete the most challenging of our Waseca reading drawers, one complete a set of B.O.B. books, another conquered the 8 bead chain and others spent time researching geology, astronomy and marine life. We concluded our studies on the continent of South America. Heroes enjoyed stories of soccer players, librarians and children just like them who designed and created a playground. We talked about what things are different in other parts of the world like climate, landscape and plant and animal life. Heroes noticed that the people in the stories were on similar journeys to become heroes changing the world, just like they are!

Thanks to all families for attending our exhibition of learning, the excitement and pride that builds near these events is palpable. Heroes worked hard and used creativity and passion in their playground designs and were excited to share lessons and new things they learned this session. In reflecting on what they did our young heroes gain deep understanding of the importance of goal setting and the hard work they do each day. One hero stated she was proud of her accomplishments in writing and math as well as making new friends.

The week ended in a trip into Washington D.C. to visit the African American History Museum. Heroes made connections to previous trips as they talked about the courage and perseverance of the first black baseball players and marveled at music and art that came from African American communities.They also had a chance to paddle along the Tidal Basin and take in the beauty of the cherry blossoms! I hope everyone has a wonderful spring break!

Session 5 Week 4: Colossal Squid and Collaboration

This week in Spark Studio heroes dove into uninterrupted chunks of work time. Our learners are becoming confident in setting goals that are meaningful to them. A hero will independently put away materials and invite one another to join in a collaborative game about counting coins. A classroom culture of teamwork and fairness creates the necessary dynamics for a strong learning community. Our Spark heroes have the time to experience multiple social roles.They practice giving and receiving feedback and work together to problem-solve when compromise is needed. Instead of asking for help from a guide you might hear a Spark hero ask, “Is anyone an expert at peeling oranges?” Our community benefits hugely from a mixed-age dynamic and our heroes use compassion and patience while helping one another. This gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment as they contribute to our thriving community of learners.

One of the best ways to see the heroes following their interests is through the books they create. While one researches deep sea life and the mysteries of the colossal squid, another writes a fictional story that has carefully chosen words that someone younger can understand and would enjoy. We see our character trait of empathy pop up in so many aspects of the day.

Heroes had a guest guide, Ms. Lauren, visit on Monday and were excited to discuss the work they had done on self-portraits that hang in the hall. The week also featured a writer’s workshop around adjectives, an umbrella walk on a rainy day, a Friday pond visit, and an afternoon learning about scaled drawing in regards to playground design. Our young designers can be heard pointing out simple machines to one another outside and in our studio. They enjoyed working together to create bar graphs that display the data they collected doing playground research. Creativity and perseverance were shown as the heroes drew design plans and made 3 dimensional mock-ups of the best playground they could imagine.

I found this article about language development, that is definitely worth a read:

Have a wonderful weekend!

Week Three Playground Research

After a challenging afternoon of communicating and working together to build a pulley system spark studio heroes were excited to begin free time on the playground when a disagreement arose. Two people were playing on the bus structure when another hero decided they would like to play there. “Well, we were here first and we prefer to play this game by ourselves”. This was met with “The spaces on our playground are for everyone, so I can play here too”. The lines had been drawn and no one wanted to budge or give up their stance. Heroes tried to negotiate saying “You can play on the bus tomorrow, we are here now” which was followed with the question “Why can’t you just use half of the bus?” Tensions began to grow as the deliberation continued without progress. In the past these moments had often led to pleas for guide intervention, heroes storming off in frustration or other emotional outbursts.

With a quick reminder from the guide, the timekeeper announced that there were now 10 minutes left of free time. “Ten minutes?! …Well half of that is 5! You all can play here for 5 minutes and then I will use the bus for 5 minutes.” “Deal! “The hero agreed and joyfully ran off. In this playground conflict the heroes stood up for what they felt was fair, they communicated clearly, they brainstormed multiple solutions and they ultimately used compromising tools they have been practicing to work through the dispute. This important social emotional work is constant in Spark Studio and will set our heroes up for success in the elementary studio and life beyond school.

Nesting heroes continue to complete computer work, predicting orbit patterns and mastering lessons on Khan Academy, Newsela and Lexia. The excitement over researching marine life and flags of South America continues to be an inspiration. The afternoons this week were filled with exploration of simple machines. The heroes were in their challenge zones, using recyclables to craft cars with working wheel and axle mechanisms. The week ended in a gorgeous day spent outdoors playing and researching playgrounds. Forts were built in the woods, teamwork utilized to push large swings, and our adventurous heroes climbed to the tops of structures. Heroes reflected on what was memorable about each park and why parks are important to a community. A hero even noted with empathy that if you didn’t have many toys a playground would be crucial for having fun! 

Exploring Physics in Spark Studio Week 2


After a fascinating trip to Austin, filled with connection and inquiry with fellow guides across the world, this week began with new ideas and excitement for learning that is driven by heroes.

How can young heroes begin to have a basic concept of how physics works unless they have a chance to explore and experiment with it freely? Our playground design quest continues to be built on the foundation of knowledge developed from these playful experiences. Heroes made inclined planes out of cardboard, wood, and even our whiteboards as they tested for distance and speed of toys cars. Our math provocation table challenged heroes to create a maze and then figure out how they could move the marble through it and many were quick to see how the use of an inclined plane aided this process. Heroes spent an afternoon honing fine motor skills and working hard to drive screws into wooden planks. The final simple machine we explored this week was the wedge and by using wedge shaped tools, heroes carved designs into bars of soap and enjoyed the sensory experience of a studio that smelled particularly fresh.

After intentional goal setting and focused work each morning, heroes prepared for a field trip to The Building Museum. We discussed what goes into planning and designing a city. The topic of empathy was brought up in discussions of who gets to decide what structures go where and how these decisions might impact residents differently. Heroes carefully considered the feelings of fellow citizens in the city they were creating. The trip culminated in an amazing show of teamwork and perseverance as heroes worked diligently to build a 7 foot arch out of foam blocks in the lobby of the museum. The building process was exciting and filled with ideas of structure and physics, but I will let the heroes tell you all the details of that endeavor.

First week of session 5 in Spark Studio

Welcome to Session 5! We excitedly welcomed back a hero who had been away and reconnected with our contract. A town meeting brought up problems that were important to heroes such as whether math, writing and reading goals should be set in a particular order and how to be sure heroes are giving concise responses during launches. Our young learners express their feelings and give supporting evidence about what solutions will work best in our community. Work time is, as always, a busy hub of curiosity. We have heroes conquering new math topics, carefully writing stories that are meaningful to them and poring over books, excited to recall plot points and how they might add to the story. They research natural findings and perform science experiments using studio plants and materials.  

Heroes discuss empathy with confidence and they come up with new ways to understand fellow travelers. We will start to discuss the larger communities we are part of and what empathy looks like on a grander scale. Spark studio heroes have made visits to the office where a mindfulness station has been set up. This is a space to name emotions and use tools to self- regulate until a hero is calm again and can rejoin fellow travelers.

Session 5 Quest work is under way as heroes practice acting out and identifying different types of force and motion.  This led to an exploration of magnetic force and we spent an afternoon determining whether magnets work in water, what materials in our studio were magnetic, and which part of a magnet housed its poles. We began discussing simple machines focusing on inclined planes first. Heroes got firsthand experience on our playground’s slide!

For next week’s Building Museum field trip we are collecting some items, if you can, please bring in recyclables 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
  • No containers that have held milk or nuts