Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thematic Studies-- A Lake and Park Highlight by Eileen Hynes

Camille reading a chapter book to the beginning students
 at Mt. Baker Park
Thematic Studies is our way of integrating science, art and social studies into our students’ day in a seamless way. It helps students make connections and brings deep meaning to their learning.  When offering subjects that are thematically integrated, we provide powerful opportunities for students to practice important skills that they are already working on.  In this way they gain fluency. Once a connection is made, a student is often motivated to learn more about a subject.  The child then will eagerly work with others to read new information.  Writing skills are practiced  as they create a poster or a script.   Speaking skills are gained in order to practice for a presentation.  Understanding of any topic will deepen as children learn from peers and share what they've learned with others. 

Upper Primary student writing and drawing
about spiders.

 Throughout the school year thematic studies will take various forms.  As this year begins, classes have been working within their classrooms on projects that serve as a bridge by which students transition from summer to the school year.  The Beginning Group is being welcomed to Lake and Park through Camille’s structuring of their day to introduce school routines and materials, including exploration of our favorite neighborhood outdoor spaces.  The Primary Class began the year collecting seeds, harvesting our community garden and wondering about the markets in the city that sell produce.  The Upper Primary Group has created a thematic study around the main character in the class read aloud book, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, reading additional non-fiction and folktales about spiders, and observing spiders and webs in the field. The Intermediate Class revisited engineering challenges as they set norms for collaborative learning this fall, along with a dramatic investigation of favorite fairytales with a twist.

Primary students harvested and observed at the garden, then
returned to school to cook.

At regular times throughout the year the whole school will choose to explore a common theme – sometimes for just a week and other times for a longer period.   These learning opportunities may be based on a particular exhibit at a museum or a theater performance.  Whatever the theme is, our approach fundamentally remains the same – child-centered, hands-on, and intellectually stimulating.  Providing opportunities for children to question, explore, investigate, analyze, synthesize, collaborate and explain one's thinking make up the constant behind each theme that we offer in any given year at Lake and Park School.

Water testing in the field.

Ongoing topics of study include our school garden at Colman P-patch and the raising of Coho salmon.  Both of these topics provide endless wonder and room for exploration and connections in all directions.  Last year we learned about the restoration project on the Elwha River and the removal of the Elwha dam.  The first fish in over one hundred years have reached the upper parts of the river this summer.  Scientists and environmentalists planned and prepared for the project for years, gathering native seeds and propagating plants to restore the habitat.  This year we plan to learn more about these native plants and work on a restoration project nearby at Colman Park.   In doing so, we will be given an opportunity to think about the connection between our work and the work done at the Elwha.  We will use all of our senses as we learn about the interconnectedness of the living things on earth. 
Salmon release April 2014.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Crystal Unit in a Fluid Curriculum by Quinn Slotnick

Still-life drawings with paint markers
The thematic curriculum at Lake and Park helps to create an important structure that inspires creativity, academic learning and the building of a close community. This structure also provides a freedom, to move within themes and follow student interest. The themes provide a jumping-off point and learning hopes for students, but the structure is loose and in following enthusiasm we are able to enrich our themes, learn more and provide an improved experience for students.

With the closing of our light and electricity unit the Beginning and Very Beginning rooms moved into a study of winter and more specifically, snow and ice. The fluid nature of our curriculum allowed the downstairs to take inspiration from snow, snow and ice crystals and look at crystals as a larger topic. This coincided fortuitously with members of the Very Beginning room participating in Winterim at Crystal Mountain!

Sorting crystals

The beginning of a new study is an exciting time for us in the Very Beginning room. As the studies are changing so does our physical environment; the art on the walls, books on the shelves and the manipulatives and other toys shift to match the new theme. Not unlike changes in Ms. Frizzle’s wardrobe and Magic School Bus, this material change helps to naturally inspire learning, art and play.  
Salt and eyedropper color painting

We put crystal pictures on the wall, brought in a selection of rocks and crystals and created a light and microscope station in which to look at the crystals more carefully. We also worked on crystal art projects, which we put up around the room to insure that there is always art on the walls. We made crystal collages with shiny materials and earth-toned paper and crystal drawings based on observations and still-life drawings with paint markers.
Looking at crystals under the microscope

Our crystal studies truly began with the crystal observations and a station featuring crystals, over-sized chopsticks connected at the top and light stands. This allowed for creativity in moving and sorting crystals with the chopsticks and looking at the way light shown through different minerals.
Crystal collage

These observations led us to creating our own crystals. We worked with the Beginning room to grow salt crystals in the classroom, which has proven to be fun and interesting, but also very slow. Students from the North Room joined the class to grow colored crystals with a kit from National Geographic, which are now upstairs for other classes to look at and further connect them to the rest of the school.
Watching crystals grow

Working with salt crystals on the tail of a winter study inspired us to put salt in the sensory table to resemble snow and allow for closer look at grains of salt. The fluid curriculum showed itself to be truly important at this point as we followed our interests and took a much deeper look into salt. We studied salt from a geological point of view, looking at its crystalline structure, but also through the lenses of chemistry, social studies and biology.
Sorting and building with crystals

Whereas much of the crystal study was split between the Beginning and Very Beginning rooms, the Beginning class took the reigns in the more academic study of salt. They first said things they knew and wondered about salt. Children stated that: Salt comes from the ocean, it has a strong flavor, it can make you thirsty, etc… They wondered if salt was a rock, a crystal, a spice!
Drawings about salt

We then read about the history of salt and drew pictures based on the ideas we were learning in order to answer our questions. We learned about its chemical structure, its history in China, Ireland and Egypt and its importance to the human body. Salt is such a large and complex topic that I found myself learning many new things and was excited to be part of our learning experience.

Student drawing about salt crystal experiment

To wrap up our unit we are receiving a rock and mineral box from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which will give us more information on crystals in nature. We will be opening geodes on Friday and the children will be able to take home a tangible memory from this unit.

Science in a Box from the Burke Museum

We will rejoin the upstairs classes during our next thematic study after mid-winter break, but it is comforting to know that the option to shift our focus based on the weather, politics, student interest or something else, exists. Our curriculum moves with us and as a result, our learning is relevant, interesting and most importantly, fun.
Geodes waiting to be opended