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!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Celebrating Women in Science

Ada Lovelace was a countess who has been attributed to be the creator of computer programming. Ada Lovelace Day, a day celebrating women in science, has become an annual tradition at the Seabury Middle School, and the 5th graders were delighted to join in the festivities this year for an amazing day of science, technology and discovery. 

Here's a great article to learn more about Ada Lovelace:

Some of the group started the day with architect Sonja Barteck, learning about the architectural style of Zaha Hadid and designing an architectural sculpture based on the idea that not all walls have to be built at 90 degree angles.

Students also practiced giving injections and suturing oranges with pediatrician Dr. Diane Bartels.

Seabury alumna Alex Cole, a graduate student in sustainable urban development at the University of Washington and now studying in Wales, led the students through a short exercise where they tried their hand at designing sustainable cities, like the ones pictured below, which featured solar power, central working and living spaces and pathways for walking and biking between work and home activities.

There were many more presenters, ranging from a cancer researcher to another alumna who is now an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland. For more pictures and to learn more about our visiting women in science and their presentations, view the Middle School Blog at

We salute you, Ada, and all women studying and working in science, mathematics and technology fields! Thanks to all of these amazing women and friends of Seabury who shared their experience and knowledge with us this day - you truly all are inspirational!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

We are the ... T nutricula?

At Seabury, democratic classroom practices and student empowerment are at the forefront of what we do, and many classes choose a class name at the beginning of the year that has something to do with the subjects they are studying or the overarching concept that guides those studies. In the past, we've had class names ranging from the "Narwhals" to the "Supernaturalists." Often these names are base don an inside joke, or particular student's interest, but the name chosen always has to be justified, lobbied for, and finally voted on.
This year, the 5th graders chose the name T. nutricula, a type of "immortal" jellyfish. As a teacher, I love to see a student's passions sparked by the mention of a strange and little-known species in a novel we are reading in class. The fact that the students were interested in learning more about this jellyfish, were excited to research it and find out if it was real, and then became fascinated with the idea of its immortality is a great example of how students at Seabury take an idea and run with it, creating a classroom culture of wonder and excitement about learning that spreads through this school like wildfire. We ended up learning what a polyp is, discussing the difference between asexual vs. sexual reproduction, and extrapolating this into a philosophical discussion of how scientists are people who "believe in the possible" and then search and persevere in order to learn more.
In this respect, I think T. nutricula is a perfect name for this group of science-minded learners, and fully representative of the unique (and, yes, often quirky) qualities of each member of this extraordinary class.
But when you are a teacher of gifted students, your role is that of the "guide on the side," and it is more important what the class members themselves think. So, here's one student's explanation:

The amazing T. nutricula
Have you ever wanted to go back in time, to when you were little and life was easier? Unfortunately, humans can’t do that, but one outstanding species of jellyfish can. The T. nutricula is known for its amazing ability to revert back to its polyp stage. This means that the jellyfish is technically immortal, but it still can die of disease or being consumed by predators. This amazing species of jellyfish is the only animal in the world that can live forever. 
Some animals like the starfish can regrow certain body parts after losing them, but the T. nutricula can re-grow its entire body after becoming a polyp. This cycle can go on forever, meaning that if you see a T. nutricula it could be a thousand years old. You can find this immortal jellyfish anywhere, but it originated in the Caribbean.
The T. nutricula is so interesting that the children’s book author Jennifer L. Holm wrote [about it] in the novel The Fourteenth Goldfish. This story is about a girl whose grandfather eats part of a T. nutricula and becomes younger. In the 5th grade class of Seabury elementary we read this book as a class and got interested in the T. nutricula. At that point we were still deciding on a class name and the T. nutricula was related to a lot of the things we were studying, like marine biology and health. Our class was given the option to vote for the T. nutricula or the aquamarines and the T.nutricula won by 2 votes. That is why our class name is now the T. nutricula.

-Art and essay by Seabury 5th grade students

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Mindfulness & Gifted Children: Coping with Anxiety

Spontaneous yoga in the park - one of the many benefits of the city as a classroom!

At Seabury, one of the things we know about gifted children is their propensity to FEEL. Our head of school, Sandi Wollum, often describes our kids as having "satellite dishes instead of cable connections." This is inherent in our school's definition of giftedness:

... a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences."        – Annemarie Roeper

This ability to take in so much information can make for engaged and enthusiastic learners, but along with all that extra input comes a lot of worry and anxiety. We have learned over the years that many of our students have a hard time turning it all off sometimes. To help them build some coping skills, we teach intentional strategies to help with this, such as mindfulness. We use many different activities such as yoga, breathing, and different movement exercises to help these amazing youngsters stay in touch with and in control of their emotions.

I recently came across a great resource I'd like to share - it's a book called Press Pause - A Young Person's Guide to Managing Life's Challenges by Catherine Singer. My class has been working through a chapter a week, but there are a few that I think might be helpful to parents at home that I wanted to share here. In Chapter 3, Singer talks about "ser," the Armenian word for love. Singer describes using the acronym "SER" in the following way to help avoid spiraling into anxious patterns of thinking:

S – Shift
Stop what you are doing or shift your thoughts away from scary thoughts/news when they start to hurt your well-being (Note – this is not avoiding bad news or tragedy, just being aware of when fear/anxiety take over)
E- Envision  
Imagine/visualize a change (for example, imagine swiping left like on a phone to change the image in your mind) or envision/visualize a place you feel completely safe or at ease (i.e a beach, lake or your favorite chair or spot at home)
R - Recognize 
Realize that we are actually SAFE. Ask yourself how often your scary thoughts actually come true? What are the actual statistics behind the thing you are worrying about? 
Look for the good (at Seabury - we often look for the heroes) in the tragedy and be attentive to the good and resilience in the world and not just the bad and tragedy.
Singer says to remember that we can choose where we place our attention and we can empower ourselves to shift focus when our thoughts start to hurt our well-being.

I think this is a lesson a lot of students can benefit from!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A tour of the State Capitol

The 5th graders recently toured the legislative building on the Washington State Capitol campus in Olympia. There are 42 steps up to the entrance symbolizing our state's entrance into the union as the 42nd state. There is also a 42-star flag on display in the state reception room.

This is the Governor's chair, where he sits to sign bills into law. The walls in the office reception area are covered with portraits of former governors, and the walls of this reception room display photographs of different landscapes of Washington taken by Jay Inslee himself.

Looking at the state seal on the floor, and up to the cupola directly above. The masonry dome of this building is 287 feet high and is the largest self-supporting dome in the U.S. and fifth largest in the world, falling in line behind renowned domes like St Peter's Basilica in Rome and St Paul's in London.

It's hard to tell from this picture, but the bronze Tiffany lamp hanging here is said to be large enough to hold a Volkswagon bug in the center.

We visited the chambers of both the house and senate floors and would like to go back when the state legislature is in session!