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Little Learners Grapple with Big Ideas
November 3, 2016
After spending their mornings immersed in literacy and math, our Lower School students get plenty of opportunities to apply these skills and learning approaches during the rest of the school day.
First grade and kindergarten offer valuable examples of how foundational skills in oral and written communication and in scientific observation and recording are integrated and honed through engaging project work:
- For science, both classes are learning to observe nature, record and share observations and simple data, and frame questions that guide further learning.
- In social studies, first-grade students are examining how guidelines and rules help a community function.
Weekly Observation in the Woods
First-grade and kindergarten students are connecting consistently with nature during regular sessions in the woods. Each child has an individual, fold-up camping seat and a particular spot in Principia’s east woods where he or she goes every week to note what happens to the trees and shrubs and leaves over time–and to wonder why and how these changes take place.
“We encourage the children to draw, label, and note what they hear, smell, and see in their journals and to write down questions,” says first-grade teacher Rissa Arens. They then discuss what they’ve journaled and use “the questions they’ve generated to focus our thinking so that we can go back to the classroom and research more information,” Arens explains.
Through this process, students are learning to focus and observe in quietude, write and document, and frame “why” and “what if” questions that can guide further learning—all essential elements of a 21st-century education.
Understanding How Rules Can Help Communities
Understanding basic guidelines of group behavior and interaction is a common theme in many elementary school programs, as young learners adjust to a longer, more structured school day. This year, Arens is helping her first graders think bigger—beyond just classroom behavior—in their “Cool with School Rules” unit.
The class decided that learning from “experts” was important and generated a list of questions to ask them, such as Why do we make rules? Why are some people in charge? What happens when we don’t obey the rules? They then interviewed Officer Katie Exline from the Town & Country Police Department as well as three School administrators—Head of School Travis Brantingham, Preschool–8 Principal Dr. Kim Ott, and Dean of Students Erin Rainwater.
After organizing their notes and discussing the interview findings, “we were able to identify the core ideas that rules are there to keep us safe, ensure fairness, and maintain harmony and order,” Arens says.
In the coming weeks, they will demonstrate planning, teamwork, creativity, and confident communication by producing two culminating pieces, which they’ll share with the entire Lower School student body and faculty:
- A short video made on iMovie that captures their understanding of the importance of rules
- A set of digitally created posters that summarize rules they think are helpful to harmonious functioning of the Lower School