“From Under Our Big Tree” NEWSLETTER (Week 20): Spotlight on Inquiry Based Learning

All Together @ TKG
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.” 
― Albert Einstein
Happy Presidents’ Day!

Have you ever watched a bee, moving from bloom to bloom, doing the important work of pollination? Or seen a “map” of a bee’s journey from hive to flower? It isn’t a straight line, but instead a series of loop-dee-loops, back and forths, zig-zags. It seems like the bee may never get back to the hive with its precious cargo and yet, thankfully, the miracle of pollination and honey making happens again and again.

A bee’s navigation is a bit like our process in working on project-based experiences with children. We may have an adult plan to go from point A to point B in a given amount of time, hitting the appropriate learning spots along the road and ending up with a “product” everyone can feel good about. However, when we are really listening to children and taking some time to breathe into the process of meaning making, we find that sometimes our journey is not a straight or even smooth one.

In our unique environment of parent participation, you may come into a project at different points. It may be a point where everything is humming and moving forward. It may be a point of starting, which can be filled with excitement and motivation but maybe a little unclear as to how “the destination” will be reached. Or you may come at a time when a project has stalled and teachers are trying to figure out what the next steps might be that would re-engage students’ true interests and lead them into deeper learning. At those times, you may experience confusion as to what is happening or what the point of our learning time is. These are the times, as facilitators we slow things down and trust in the power of inquiry based learning.

We know this process can be filled with many twists and turns and can often take a lot longer than anticipated in order to get anywhere of substance.  So, in facilitating projects, teachers create some regularity and structure:

  1. Each project begins with community intentions. These intentions provide a foundation for provocations that spark children’s explorations.
  2. Teachers document what students are saying and doing in order to really understand what they are interested in and then, together, students and teachers reflect on the process.
  3. This reflection can lead to more provocations and explorations and it can also lead to a refining of intentions.
For our Hesse Park gift, the intention, created by teachers, was for students to honor Hesse park and the people who go there by creating a “gift.” This gift focused on lower Hesse park, called “the Outback” because that area is being considered for re-development.  This project fit into our schedule during the last hour of the day, called Innovation Lab, when we offer students the opportunity to dive deep into creative projects and hone their multiple intelligences. There was an empty case in the community center at Hesse park that would have been perfect to highlight these ideas for how to enhance lower Hess park by the students. All of the pieces seemed to make sense and the goal was to get some of the students’ ideas on display at Hesse park before we switched to another park, which was within 2 weeks. Two weeks might have been fine if we had students who would put together a pretty picture or a nice, simple mosaic to hang in some non-descript area of the park. But are those our children? No!

Our innovative, creative children had loftier, dreamier and more complicated goals.Build a tree house, create a zoo, bring water from the ocean for a water feature under the bridge. So we set out to do it, because we believe that children deserve for us to honor their intelligence, creativity and capacity, instead of steering them towards something more “sensible” or “perfect.” We worked as a whole school in several multi-age groups to bring these interests to life.  This is how we facilitate innovative thinking at TKG! We start by dreaming and going beyond what we think is possible. Then we jump in and do something.  In this current project, we have come to a point where…we need more time! That deadline of 2 weeks to display our students’ thinking? That was us trying to go from point A to point B, in an efficient manner, forgetting that great project work is naturally messy and time-consuming.

One particular group that focused on animals, highlights how a big student plan may not result in the actual plan, but may distill down to a more profound understanding and a new “product” may emerge. Sometimes a pause in a project can be the thing that helps re-define intentions by both teachers and students:

The animal group was formed by A., T., and H.’s interest in the animals that live or could live at Hesse Park.

Their brainstorming included a wide range of creatures: bats, butterflies and snakes.  Early on they had their hearts set on building a snake pit.  Teachers offered questions and resources to encourage thinking about their other animals, but they were hooked!  The plan was to dig a hole and collect snakes from the park.  The snake pit would provide a safe space for snakes to be observed. Michelle wondered if their plan was also created to help their friends feel safe in the outback.  Through the journey to what eventually became a zoo, students learned how to work as a team.  Hayden took on the role as leader, which everyone in his group granted him.  They incorporated new thinking and perspectives when Sophia joined the group and were challenged to create a video describing their plan.  After the first few days working on the snake pit idea, we went to Hesse park again and it was there, in the location, where they decided on a multi level zoo with four habitat areas: snakes, land, sea, and mammals.  Science learning became prominent as students read about rattlesnakes and mammals. Through this research, students realized that rattlesnakes are both predators and prey with certain animals like owls.  The research they did on mammals challenged their current understanding and in the end some still held fast to their initial beliefs about what a mammal is.  It was exciting to see lots of authentic writing and supporting each other in spelling. Eventually, Hayden took on the role of spell checker and learned how to use the spelling dictionary. To continue to support his team, he would also seek out collage materials his cohorts were seeking.  This helped the group remain grounded and connected to their project.  They even started brainstorming on how the zoo would operate.

At this point, teachers are wondering if the goal of the project is actually to “build” a 4 story zoo. We could get out the hammers and nails and try for something, which I’m sure the students would have fun with. But is there deeper learning we might miss if we aimed just for this cool product?  Are they curious about the engineering and construction process? Or are they interested in the classification of animals? Or what the relationship is between people and the animals that live side by side? Can we co-exist with animals? What about those animals that pose a threat?

So, we are at a pollinating point in this Hess park project, figuring out what the next steps are.  We will continue to offer investigate experiences in support of moving our dreams forward. As we listen and document the process, we are studying what is really driving students’ interests and how we can scaffold learning that will inspire children to dive in to a deeper understanding of that which drew them in the first place.  And like the bees, we will zig-zag along our journey knowing that we are getting the answers we seek and trusting that the path to the harvest will become clear and bountiful.

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
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TKG Info

Tending the Garden

***Community Workshop – Tue 2/17 9:30am
One of TKG’s commitments to community is to host workshops that align with our learning values and are accessible to our friends and family who are not enrolled at TKG. Please see the link below to REGISTER for and SHARE this opportunity.Contact Trish

***Monthly Parent Meeting – Thr 2/19 7pm
Another opportunity for us to meet and deepen our connections!  As a reminder, if you miss parent participation meetings, our teachers have to make time out of their busy schedules to review with you. Three missed events will result in your tuition scale being bumped up to the next tier. Contact Lena (content) or Trish (admin)

***100th Day Celebration – Tue 2/24 12noon-3pm
We are celebrating 100 days of school next Tuesday. Parents have the option to join us after 12noon for celebration and connection.  There are no supplies needed at this time but we will give you notice if that changes, asap. If you can’t make it, we will encircle your sprout with love!

TKG Principles
  • 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

  • TUESDAY Lori(D) (Jennifer (AM Breezeway), Schwartz (AM set up), Saundi (PM clean up))
  • WEDNESDAY – Renee (D), Trish (U) (Jennifer (AM Breezeway), Schwartz (AM set up), Saundi (PM clean up))
  • THURSDAY – Saundi (U) (Jennifer (AM Breezeway/PM clean up), Lori (AM set up))
  • FRIDAY- Gina (U), Shannon (U) ((Alice (P), Erin (AM Breezeway), Monica (AM set up), Saundi (PM clean up)

NEED to make up some PT time? Please check with Lena or Michelle.

PRINT the most current PT Calendar, here (trying a new download format in response to challenges with opening the file)!  Missed shifts are billed at $20 per hour, unless make-up hours are arranged via Trish.

PT RESOURCE: Don’t call kids “girls” and “boys”
Would the use of gender-free pronouns actually make kids less sexist? In a study, researchers predicted that “grammatical gender” languages would be associated with the highest levels of gender inequality, and they were right. As a PT, we encourage you to actively challenge implicit biases.

The good news about English (read about Spanish and Swedish among other languages)  is that some of our gendered pronouns can offer you a way to counteract stereotypes in everyday speech. You can say things like “every kid who likes science should visit her local planetarium,” actively challenging our implicit biases, and encouraging people to think more flexibly.  Science, friendship, math…pose questions to cause reflection and draw students’ knowledge and curiosity out.

Admin Announcements

From the TKG Office

  • Office Hours Friday Feb 20 @ 1pm Green Roast Coffee Contact Monica
  • TKG Appeal Week – Feb 23-27 we are implementing our first ever Annual Fund drive beginning Monday of next week.  Please friend us on Facebook and Twitter so that you can share us with your friends! Stay tuned.
  • Calendar Items– there are two new items on the official calendar: we will be hosting an Open House for prospective and enrolled families on Mar 14.  Please stop by!  Details to follow. Also, Office Hours have been added.

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. 

An Ounce of Prevention with Patti Fitzgerald

Open to the Community!
Tuesday Feb 17th, 9:30am @ TKG

This 90 minute presentation is designed to teach parents and caregivers vital strategies and skills designed to keep children safe from predators, including 10 Family Safety Rules, 10 Red Flags and Warning Signs, 20 Prevention Tips and Guidelines for teaching children.

Eventbrite - An Ounce of Prevention - A S.E.A. Workshop with Pattie Fitzgerald

Resource Of The Week – Brain Function & Development

Let Your Kids Ride the Bus Alone

One of our goals at TKG is to give students and parents many opportunities to see things through a different lens.  Try on wonder, mischief, be a scientist or a shaman…when openness becomes a mindset, your potential changes immediately.  This week’s resource was chosen to help us try on the lens of adventurer:

Most school field trips are to places the students might never go on their own: a museum, a play, a nature preserve. The idea is to open kids wide to the wonderful world. This past spring one grammar school in Silicon Valley started sending kids to a very different, but equally mind-blowing place: their own neighborhood.

On their own. Without an adult.

The idea was to get children walking around, playing outside, biking to the library—just normal kid stuff. Or at least, what was normal kid stuff. Today, only 13 percent of U.S. children walk to school. One study found that only 6 percent of kids age 9-13 play outside in a given week.

That’s not just sad, it’s a radical new norm: childhood spent under constant adult supervision, and, often enough, in a car. The results wreak havoc on kids’ bodies, the environment, and any parent with hopes and dreams (or even a paying job) beyond the minivan.  With national attention focused on climate change, childhood obesity and “leaning in,” less chaperoning seems like a win-win-win solution: decreased emissions, increased exercise, and more time for moms (and dads) to focus on something other than how slowly the after-school pick up line is moving.

And considering the crime rate today is lower than when most of those parents were growing up—it’s back to the rate it was 40+ years ago—why shouldn’t kids be doing anything on their own?  READ MORE @theAtlantic

Brain Function & Development - What's your Project?

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