Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Incredible Journey of a Drop of Water

Our class had the privilege of working with Chris Towe of the Pierce County Conservation District on a number of lessons about water and water conservation at the beginning of the year. In one lesson, we played a game that tracked the incredible journey of a water droplet.
After Chris departed, we wrote stories based on this idea.
Here are a few of the creative ideas the students came up with:

The Water Story (an excerpt)

I woke up in the river, ice had formed overnight. (This year’s February seemed to be especially cold.) Then I heard murmuring voices. “Look Annie, we have so much snow and ice this year!” “I know, Sally” this seemed to be Annie’s voice though I’m not sure. Then the children left. Soon I could feel the sun warming the river turning solid into liquid, ice into water. Over the next few weeks I could feel the days getting warmer until one fortunate day when I could feel myself turning into vapor once more. I turned into a cloud. Suddenly, I realized it was March.

            The cloud I was in traveled for many days until we hit something. Other water molecules whispered to me that we had hit a mountain. Suddenly, I could feel myself falling off my cloud. I knew it was not raining, I knew what raining felt like, it was like the cloud was shedding me off. Before I knew it I felt myself merging with the river and falling for what it seemed an endless time until I felt myself floating calmly into a pool. For some time I stayed there until I felt myself being sucked up by what it seemed an animal! Then I thought, "It's April."


I will explain my story as best as I can. As far as I can remember, I started out in a lake when earth formed. One day, I felt a nice tingling sensation all over as I was gently broken apart and lifted up into the sky. I couldn’t tell you how awesome I felt at that time. I felt that I was the king of Earth. Suddenly, I started feeling a jerking sensation so strong that my broken form came together into a cloud.
 I felt cold, and I was wondering what would happen once the cloud expanded and got too big. I soon found my answer, and I didn’t like it. I was falling, tens of thousands of feet. I dreaded what would happen once I hit the ground. As I fell, faster than a freight-train, I got a glimpse of where I would land. I was relieved that I would land in the ocean for the first time in my life. I plunked into the water freely with my friends. At this point, I was about half a million years old. I stayed in the ocean for several years before I felt a familiar sensation.
After the process of evaporation happened to me again, I was placed in a large, fluffy cloud that looked a lot like a clump of cotton candy. I knew that the process of precipitation would happen again and I didn’t look forward to it. To pass time, I talked to my friend Nicholas. I was in mid-sentence, when the familiar uncomfortable sensation washed over me, if anything can wash over me as I am water. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Project Based Learning: Why It's Important Today

A recent letter to parents:

         At Seabury, we often use problem-based, or inquiry-based, learning to hone “20th century skills." Things like teamwork, out-of-the box thinking and creative problem solving allow students to grapple with “real-world” challenges – like those students might face in an actual work environment someday. Our class has just begun a unit of study called Mystery River, designed to challenge students on several levels. This unit will offer your student the opportunity to learn about stream water quality, endangered species, governmental problem solving, social science and systems, public speaking, and much, MUCH more.
Your student will need to learn much of what they need to know on their own or in conjunction with their team members. Many students will want to share their successes or frustrations with you, and some may try to get help from you. Please be willing to listen to your student and to offer help in the form of allowing them internet access, or taking them to the library or providing any other support that THEY SUGGEST. However, please do not offer your own insights, information, or suggestions, even when asked. If your student asks a question about the content/topic of this unit, you may want to consider responding with “What do you think?” If they want your opinion regarding a theory or possible course of action, you may try to draw out their thinking by saying something like “That’s an interesting idea. Why do you say that?”
One of the fundamental concepts of problem-based learning is that students learn to be independent learners – that is, they can learn on their own, without the overriding guidance or decision making of a teacher or parent. Please encourage your student to have fun with this project and not to become overwhelmed with anxiety because of the “fuzzy” nature of the problem. Many students struggle when they do not have clear guidelines of how to proceed. In this unit, the students will have to first determine the parameters of the problem (if indeed, there IS a problem!) to make sure they are headed in the right direction, then ask themselves what knowledge or skills are necessary to solve the problem. They will need to determine what questions are relevant, and some questions they ask may not have the clear, decisive answers they are used to. They will need to avid “fatal” lines of reasoning that oversimplify the issue. In your discussions at home, please ask your student what he or she doesn’t know but needs to know to complete the assignment. This is where the critical learning takes place. Please assist me in helping your student not to become overwhelmed at this critical point! When the students have learned how to identify their own areas of inadequate knowledge, how to acquire that knowledge on their own, and then how to apply that knowledge to the problem at hand, they will have gained an invaluable life skill. Many of them are well on their way in this area, and many are just preparing to launch.
I am looking forward to watching these students rise to meet this challenge! 

Right after sending out this e-mail, I came across a post from one of my favorite teaching resources, The Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzalez:

Apart from the academic and social gains cooperative learning has offered for generations, we now find ourselves in an era where it may be more essential than ever before. 
For one thing, it gives students practice in the kind of skills that are becoming more desirable in the workplace. P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning includes collaboration as one of its essential skills. As manufacturing is automated and information can be obtained with a few clicks, higher-level skills like communication, creativity, and collaboration are more valued—these are skills computers can’t really replicate. The work of human beings is going to involve more and more of those kinds of skills in professional spaces, higher education, and community life.
On a deeper level,  we need cooperative learning because technology is really starting to limit our face-to-face communication. Even when we’re in school together, we are on devices so much of the time. This can be wonderful and efficient, and it offers so many more opportunities to expose ourselves to new ideas, but it is stunting our ability to have regular conversations and robbing us of all the gifts that come with those interactions. Giving students regular opportunities to share physical space and actually talk through complex problems is a gift they may not get anywhere else, so yes, it’s worth it.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Science of Art at the Museum of Glass

While some schools go on field trips once or twice a year, classes at Seabury go on field trips more like once a month -- and in the Bridges program, it's once a WEEK. We prefer to call them field studies, because these trips are not the traditional end-of-unit celebrations we usually think of when we hear the word "field trip" -- they are opportunities to listen, ask questions, make connections, and open new doors to many new ideas, issues and areas of interest. In Bridges, we often START a unit with a field study, and in this case, the Bridges students got an introduction to some of the ideas we will be covering in a study of electricity later this year through Tacoma'a unique Museum of Glass.

Led by a museum educator, students conducted several experiments in class, learning about how different metals conduct energy and the different ways energy moves. They looked at some different chemical reactions and thought about how artists and scientists use chemically-created colors. Then, in a museum visit, students noted color, texture and patina in artworks on display in the gallery. They created art using copper and steel wire in a wrapped glass piece to represent how energy flows. Finally, they watched energy being transformed and moved as they watched glass artists at work in the museum's hot shop, noting the items the artists use to insulate themselves and block the transfer of heat while making glass artworks.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Visiting the Nourish Food Bank

The Nourish Food Bank in Edgewood provided food for 68,000 people in 2019 - the equivalent of 150 families each day. They accomplish this mission with the help of a huge staff of volunteers - 94 people who worked a combined total of 18,000 hours. As we toured the food bank, we met and talked with one young woman who has been volunteering there with her family once a week since she was about 12. Now in college studying language, she has found a way to practice her Spanish and Russian while helping others. This place and the people who work there are a real inspiration for a class of students starting to think about what they can do to make change in the world as they prepare to start their own service learning projects!

Here's what one student had to say about the visit:

Dear Ms. Kate,

Thank you for letting our class come to visit your food bank. We learned so much. It is amazing how you help people in need of food. Good food especially. It feels like you have a friendship with the donors that support you. We loved the part where you showed us around the freezer room. That was a very special opportunity. Another part we loved was when you showed us around the food bank, and we got to pretend that we were coming to "shop" for food. Thank you for taking the time to teach us about the food bank.                                                            -5th Grade Student

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Exploring the Judicial System

Tacoma Superior Court Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck hosted our class in her courtroom last week, taking the time to answer a barrage of questions such as what she does when court is not in session (reads, researches the law and prepares for upcoming cases), whether she was a lawyer before becoming a judge (yes - for many years), and whether she bangs her gavel like you see on TV (never - people are actually very well behaved in courtrooms, she says). 

Court reporters document every word said in court using a special stenography, or "Steno," machine that uses combinations of keys to write phonetically, allowing them to record more than 225 words per minute. It was fascinating to watch and some of the students thought it looked like a coding language on the computer screen.

Everyone enjoyed sitting in the judge's chair. The books behind the desk are all reference books on Washington State laws that the judge consults regularly.

The class also had lots of questions for Jesse, an assistant district attorney, who talked about law school, different types of cases and how the district attorney's office decides which ones to prosecute, and the difference between prosecution and defence attorneys.

We learned a lot about the judicial system and how it works right here, just blocks away from our school!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Tour of the Tacoma Police Department

Dear Captain Hayes,                

Thank you for showing us around the police headquarters. It was really fun to see the SWAT vehicles. They were really cool. I learned a lot about how police work in times of great stress. I learned how police dogs are paid: by playing with a ball. It was fun to play with Ruby. I enjoyed talking about when and how to use a gun the most. Police are what keep our community safe. Police protect citizens from all of the dangers that might jeopardize us. Anything that can put a human’s life in peril, the police will take care of. That is why I am writing this letter.

-A Seabury 5th Grader

These are the evidence lockers where officers put evidence gathered from crime scenes. We were amazed to learn that once the evidence goes intot he locker, the police cannot open it again. Only the people who work on the other side handle the evidence after it has gone into these lockers.

Fooling around in a holding cell.

Viewing a memorial to Tacoma officers killed in the line of duty.

We met Ruby, a drug-sniffing dog, and her handler, and learned about how she was trained and what her job is.

We love Ruby!

An impressive array of armored SWAT vehicles.

Learning about how officers defend themselves.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Exploring Paper Circuits with Grandparents and Special Friends

To celebrate our grandparents and special friends this year, we invited them to join us in the new Seabury Middle School MakerSpace to explore the challenge of using a simple circuit and an LED bulb to create a light-up card or project of their choice.

The tables were filled as everyone got right to work.

It was wonderful to have friends and relations visiting from as far away as India!

Creating a working circuit takes patience and perseverance.

Some of our experts put their knowledge to use helping others.

Teamwork was essential!

What better way to spend time with special people than creating something together?

One team made a circuit that could be used to transmit morse code messages! I wonder where this student developed his interest in history?!

Thank you to all our visitors for your time, enthusiasm for making and learning, and all you do to support these students!