WEEK 15 NEWSLETTER: “From Under Our Big Tree” (School-wide Edition)


All Together - 7 to 9 Class
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
― John Lennon
Dear Community,

For the last three weeks, Michelle, Dawn, Yvette, Elle and I have spent much time reflecting upon and researching all the ways we bring learning to life at The Knowing Garden. How do we inspire developing readers to push further, writers to try new things and mathematicians in a way that fits their developmental levels and interests? How to scaffold, in the zone of proximal development, effectively? How do we facilitate freedom within the context of community? How to we keep nature integrated in our experiences?  One of the great learning experiences of our school is the opportunity to put theory in to practice. Theory has given us foundation and the knowledge to establish the vision. Practice has given us proof  that a collaborative and interactive approach to education is worthwhile, for all its wonderful and hard experiences, because it is manifesting students who value connection, want to learn more and take action.  This experience is also giving us all the opportunity to grow, learn and stretch ourselves too.

Our goal this week was to enhance our open-ended, project based inquiries with more focused, skills based learning opportunities.  Project-based learning is an effective and enjoyable way to learn — and develops deeper learning competencies required for success in college, career and civic life.  We value open-ended learning because it removes the process of getting the “right” answer as prescribed by a didactic lesson. We also honor that there are many ways to get to the answer,a resolution or an understanding – the path can be different yet the values are common.  Project time and skill building through instruction live in symbiosis.  All project time and students struggle because they lack foundation of knowledge and skills (generally the guiding philosophy at a Free School).  All focused instruction, students don’t get the chance to make learning meaningful (the industrial revolution model of education).  At TKG, we intend to create the experience of academic progress through the balance of choice and guided instruction.  We haven’t changed our commitment to social-emotional learning its just not the focus in this newsletter.  You can always check in with us for social-emotional status at any time. In order to facilitate this differentiated academic learning at TKG:
  1. Students will get the opportunity to develop and hone foundational skills during our focused, skills based times (OPEN FLOW) and then they’ll be asked to apply them in to their Project-time experiences (DEEP LEARNING).
  2. Our goal is to infuse a project or hands-on experience in almost every OPEN FLOW opportunity but there will also be direct instruction with attention to the individual’s readiness in multiple intelligences.
  3. DEEP LEARNING time will be student-led with mentor/expert provocations of Investigation and Innovation.
  4. You can support your student’s experience by getting familiar with our Socratic techniques (you are already doing it) to deepen learning with projects at home.  You don’t have to feel like you have to do academic work at home but if something is working for your student, please share it with your teachers!
One of the great benefits of our learning environment here at TKG is that children have the opportunity to learn in multi-age groups, where the opportunity to be the expert and the novice is always shifting through the interaction with a diverse group of peers. As we watch children in our classrooms, we take note of their cognitive, social-emotional, and physical developmental level. At the December parent meeting, we offered Yardsticks as a resource for understanding the developmental milestones at each age level. We know it is not a linear process across the board either within or between children so we take the information as a touch point and then look at the human in front of us. We think about developmental levels in order to help us match them with learning experiences that will most greatly benefit them. At the December parent meeting, we also talked about the zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the space beyond what a student can do on their own and future knowledge. As teachers (and parents) we do our most important work is in this zone: we are most effective when we give children experiences that are within their ZPD, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning. From my conversations with students, they have defined it as that sweet spot that is not too easy or too hard, it is a feeling of just right with an element of challenge; A feeling of reaching, but attainable reaching.

So this week, for both classrooms, we enhanced our schedules that are already filled with opportunities for connection and creativity, play and pondering, to now include daily opportunities to meet in small, differentiated groups to focus on math. We thought about the school as a whole unit, widening even farther the value of a mixed-aged setting by having students mix from the upstairs and downstairs. Both classrooms now have a common time, from 12-12:30 where each teacher has a small number of students, grouped in order to best match their zone of proximal development.

This is how we zoned this week:

Dawn worked with A, C, and S to practice number sense and sequencing.  They learned a card game called Garbage that supported and stretched their understanding of number order and lays a foundation for the ten-frame tool.  Taking turns and working with a partner added to the real world skills they were practicing while playing.  Want to learn?  Ask them how to play!

Michelle worked with D, L, J, and T making clocks.  Applying their understanding of clocks, skip counting by 5s, and fine motor skills they created their own clocks and are beginning to understand that the hour hand is read first, and then minutes.

Yvette and Elle worked with M, A, H, S, and A(on Thursday) using the 100s chart and open number line to quickly jump 10 more, 10 less, 1 more, 1 less.  This foundational understanding supported them in solving two digit addition problems and word problems.

Lena worked with M, B and T on number sense of numbers into the millions by playing a modified version of the card game War where you play 3 cards at a time. Jacks are worth 100, Queen’s 1000, Kings 10,0000, Aces 100,000 and Jokers 1 million. This group also worked on division.

Hopefully, in the description of the experiences your child/children had this week during this differentiated math time, it is clear that skills-based does not have to mean boring or tedious, just focused and intentional. For the time being, the groups will stay the same while each teacher and each child settles into the new schedule and students can have an opportunity to dive into concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

In addition to these skill building opportunities, this week was full of rich project-based experiences. Some highlights:

  • We engaged in physics inquiry, as a whole school, when we pondered forces like thrust, drag, weight and lift using paper airplanes at Hess park on Monday.
  • Downstairs we focused on math, art, craftsmanship, color theory, marketing and teamwork as we fundraised our guinea pig S’mores care supplies by creating and selling dolls called Cloth Kids to members of the church staff.
  • Upstairs, we established our unifying project tied to our year-long provocation: the Neighborhood is in full swing!  A, S, and J have been sorting and creating money at the store.  C, T, and A have been baking away at the café.  L, D, and M made passports, tickets, and laying out the airport.  We are working with our groups as well as interacting with everyone in the neighborhood: The café purchased eggs and goods to make their cookies and then delivered cookies and milk to each group.  The store made money and gift cards and passed them out.  The airport made passport for everyone and we flew to New York for the cookie contest.  On Friday we began thinking about characters and drafted up our brainstorm.
  • We revisited our school-wide physics inquiry on Friday. This time, we brought in the mathematical practice of measurement by keeping track of flight distances.  We practiced the scientific process through the use of multiple trials, standardization of plane type and variables like throw and style.
As one of our parents posted on Facebook this week, we do real-life learning here!  Looking forward to sharing more of it here in this space.  LV and family are bringing community snack this week!
Lena & Michelle
Lena Garcia, School Builder/7 to 9 Classroom
Michelle Goldbach-Johnson, Founding Teacher/5 to 7 Classroom
Yvette Fenton, Co-Teacher, 5 to 7 Classroom
Elle Schwarz, Co-Teacher, 7 to 9 Classroom
Dawn Smith, Co-Teacher, 5 to 7 Classroom
Saundi Williams5 to 7 Room Parent
Erin Levin, 7 to 9 Room Parent
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TKG Info

Tending the Garden

***Field Trip #3 – Friday Jan 16th
We are looking forward to a busy and engaging exploration of what a citizen can do for her/his city and what a city does for its citizens!  Contact Jen Ceci with questions. Anyone needing ride-share?  Please post on the info board on Tuesday! Don’t forget to pack lunch, water and snacks. To recap:

  • 10am: MEET @ Westside Food Bank(1710 22nd Street, Santa Monica, 90404) *wear closed-toed shoes
  • 12pm: Tongva Park (1615 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica) *meet at the yellow climbing structure in the playground area
  • 1pm: Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (1623 Appian Way, Santa Monica)
  • 2pm (optional): Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (1600 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90401)*donation of $3 per person if we have 10 people or more going, $5 per person if less than 10 people in our group go.

***’Monthly Parent Meeting – Saturday Jan 24th, 9am
Thank you for joining us! We look forward to connection time. We may not have childcare but let us know if you need help with making arrangements.

TKG Principals
  • CONSTRUCTIVISM: teachers and parents provide the trellis on which students will build on their existing knowledge
  • WHOLE CHILD + FAMILY, cognitive, physical and social/emotional capacities are connected – families & caregivers are our partners
  • BRAIN SCIENCE,we are sensory learners with existing neural pathways and we can help develop and practice new learning
  • CAPACITY BUILDING, nurturing creative thinkers who are encouraged to solve problems that serve our community
  • COOPERATIVE LEARNING, small groups, low ratios, mixed ages and generations
Parent Teacher Info

Parent/Teacher Toolbox

PT Schedule for the week

  • MONDAY E, S (AM)/J (PM), M
  • TUESDAY L (D) (E (AM breezeway, S (AM set up/PM clean up))
  • WEDNESDAY – E (U), M (D) (E (AM breezeway), L (PM clean up), S (AM set up))
  • THURSDAY – R (U), S (U) (A (AM set up), E (AM breezeway), L (PM clean up))
  • FRIDAY-Fieldtrip Point Parents are J & S

PRINT the most current PT Calendar, here!   Contact Trish with any changes asap.  If a sub (for a full day) is not secured, TKG will arrange for one of the co-teachers to cover and bill the family for $150 for the day.

PT RESOURCE: ZONE of Proximal Development
The concept of the zone of proximal development was originally developed by Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) to argue against the use of academic, knowledge-based tests as a means to gauge students’ intelligence. Vygotsky argued that, rather than examining what a student knows to determine intelligence, it is better to examine his or her ability to solve problems independently and his or her ability to solve problems with an adult’s help. The ZPD concept is seen as a scaffolding, a structure of “support points” for performing an action. This refers to the help or guidance received from an adult or more competent peer to permit the child to work within the ZPD. One example of children using ZPD is learning to dance: when a person is learning how to dance, they look to others around them on the dance floor and imitate their moves. A person does not copy the dance moves exactly, but takes what they can and adds their own personality to it.  LEARN MORE…
Admin Announcements

From the TKG Office

  • Office Hours Thr Jan 15th, 1pm @Green Roast Coffee
  • Board Meeting Thr Jan 15th, 7pm @TKG (meeting minutes are available with Weekly Newsletter binders on the Green Monster)
  • School Holiday Mon Jan 19 & Tue Jan 20.  In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. plus a Teacher Planning day attached for a slow weekend where hopefully you can enjoy family time!

Thank you Families!  Contact Trish or Monica with any questions or to schedule meeting time.  The most updated calendar is online via our website. PRINT the latest Official Calendar, here. 

for Parents
Thursday January 29th, 7pm @ TKG

Please invite your friends to join us for our first (of two) Info Night.  Registration is available via our website: knowingGarden.org or forward this link.
In case it has been a couple of years since you went to an Info night, come see it for yourself!

Resource Of The Week – Whole Child & Family

Getting Your Child Out the Door In the Morning
By Dr.Laura Markham/Aha Parenting!

Now that we’re back in school, you must be settling in to the routine – and it is still challenging right?! Here are some timely reminders:

Wouldn’t it be amazing if all parents could have flextime, so there’s more time in the morning for small humans to have a more humane start to their day?  But that’s not possible for many families.

So what’s the answer?  Re-frame your idea of the morning routine.  What if your main job was to connect emotionally?  That way, your child would have a genuinely “full cup.” Not only would he be more ready to cooperate with you, he’d be more able to rise to the developmental challenges of his day.  How?

1. Get everyone to bed as early as possible.
2. Get yourself to bed earlier.
3. Build in extra time.
4. Prepare the night before.
5. Make sure you get five minutes of relaxed snuggle time with each child as they wake up.

Read all the details at AhaParenting!

Whole Family - Get Outside and Play!


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