“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!

Clean and Simple

“You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs

As we know, life is far from clean and simple. Our modern world inundates us with mixed messages and overwhelming noise. Without clear thinking, our children are vulnerable to so much.

Our learners cultivate critical thinking skills in daily Socratic discussions and they practice making good decisions by actually having the freedom to make many of the decisions that shape their day. You can’t become a critical thinker without having ample time to think and reflect. You can’t become a good decision maker without actually being able to decide things.

It seems silly to spell out. However, most institutions don’t give our children the freedom or opportunity to make many decisions themselves.

At The Village School, our young learners have been testing out their freedom and decision making abilities for the past seven months. Through trial and error, constant feedback, and daily practice, they have been working hard to make their thinking “clean and simple.”

Has it worked? Can we see tangible evidence of clear thinking?

A recent experience in our own home gave me an answer to this wondering. After a particular challenging day, I flopped down on the couch next to our nine year old and asked, “What do you do when you realize you made a mistake and aren’t particularly proud of yourself?”

Our son sat up tall, looked at me and spoke as if he had been simply waiting around for me to ask this exact question.

“First, I would apologize if I need to- like if I was unkind or overreacted to something.

Second, I would remind myself that everyone makes mistakes. People are way harder on themselves than other people are on them. Just because I’m mad at myself doesn’t mean everyone else is mad at me. They’re probably not even thinking about me.

Third, I would get quiet and still until I felt calm.

Fourth, I reflect on what I could do differently next time so I don’t feel like this. I probably let the wrong part of my brain tell me what to do. This side shouts, “Do this! It’s the way you’ve always done it. It’s the quickest and easiest way.” The other side whispers, “Slow down, pay attention. You can try a different way.” You have to stop long enough to listen to the voice that whispers.

Lastly, I would make myself do something I really like even if I don’t feel like it. Just doing it can fix a bad mood.”

Clean and simple- the type of thinking that will move mountains.

Spring has Sprung: Session 6 Week 1

“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.

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!

Whirlwind Week- Session 5: Week 5

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.

Is Struggle a Good Thing?

Our children deserve honest struggle which builds deep, strong roots.” – Laura Sandefer

Is struggle a good thing?

It certainly doesn’t feel good. Watching our children struggle is one of the hardest parts of being a parent. It makes my skin itch and my heart beat a little faster. It is the epitome of discomfort. In no way, shape or form does it come naturally to me.

Embracing struggle is part of the journey at The Village School. It’s in our ethos. We allow our learners to struggle because they deserve it.

They deserve the experience of losing a game, navigating tricky relationships, missing a deadline, and feeling uncomfortable, unprepared, or unsure at times.

As an educator, and especially as a mother, being a witness to a child in the midst of struggle is heart-wrenching. It’s in our DNA as humans to try and avoid pain after all.

But, without it- there is no transformation. Without honest struggle, we take away the opportunity for our children to build deep, strong roots.

So, is struggle a good thing? Yes, it is- even though it doesn’t feel good.

Because the other side of struggle- that place where we stand after losing, failing, procrastinating, forgiving, apologizing, accepting, etc.- this is the place our children must be allowed to get to, again and again, if we really want to see them soar.

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!

Magical Moments: Session 5 Week 4

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.

Hope you had a magical week too!

Playground Designers: Session 5 Week 3

What can you learn from a day at the park?

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.

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!