What is community? Why is it important? Many of us, including our children, don't necessarily think about this question very often. This is a question I asked our young scholars this past Monday morning. We talked about how our community includes police officers, teachers, restaurant workers, as well as our school and classmates. We talked about how we can play an important role in our community and how we can contribute to making it better for all. Then I asked students if they loved reading. Every hand shot up eagerly. I asked, "how many of you know how to go to our school library and check out a book?" Hands wavered, some went down. We discussed their prior experiences at public libraries and how to respectfully interact with books. We also developed a driving question for our classroom: How can we make the PNA library better for our school community?
Because libraries can be the hub of a school community; they are a place to gather, share ideas, grow thoughts, and get lost in stories. As we race forward in this digital age, we have somehow forgotten the wonder and joy of actual pages turning before us. Beyond the simple joy of reading, reading and regular exposure to books has a wealth of benefits for children (and adults!). By exposing our students regularly to a functional library, we are teaching them taxonomy, inquiry and research skills, how to broaden their genres interest and teaching them how to respectfully interact with an actual text. Give a 21st century child a phone or tablet, and they will navigate it like a pro. Give them an actual book or free reign in a library, and they may look like a deer in the headlights.
Although our young scholars are in the early years of their education, it is still so important that they feel their voices are heard. Just this past week, we welcomed older students from student council into our classroom to educate and discuss earthquake safety. It was awesome to see these young students speak with confidence to see our first graders so engaged! I thought about what a great example it was to our younger students to see that their peers were able to educate not only other students, but teachers as well. And this all goes back to community; to opening our minds and ears to create a space that encourages movement and change.
First graders are in the very beginning of their brainstorm regarding the PNA library. They love learning and I cannot wait to see them share their ideas with the student body and teachers. If our youngest learners can instigate change, think about what they will be capable of in the years to come!
Read about how to create a culture where students want to be included because their voice matters
Also, check out some these awesome links to the benefits of a school library and reading!
Space week was a blast! Students were engaged in a variety of enriching activities and having so much fun while learning a lot about space. I believe even teachers and staff learned a lot about our great universe and its complexities! First grade put the final touches on their Space Station Play Station and were so proud of their completed work. We spent a lot of time talking and learning about the International Space Station, what astronauts do in space, and even got to peak at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and see what scientists believe our colonies on Mars will look like in 2047 (one of our students has a grandfather there who gave us a private video tour!), a the while deepening their awareness of Earth's place in the Universe. Their Space Station exhibit was a true hit at our Space Night at the Museum, and many of our first graders who came loved to explain their part in the build and how their specific designs "controlled" the station!
Students were so engaged with our guest speakers, Mr. Rich and Senior NASA engineer, Su Curley. They brought all of our conversation about space to life by showing students authentic items such as moon rocks, an astronaut suit, a space helmet, and even space food! Students learned about rocketry and then were then able to build and launch their own rockets, they engaged in activities that demonstrated how asteroids and meteorites create moon craters, and worked as a team to design their crew mission patch.
After a busy and wonderful week of learning, we visited the University of Alaska Anchorage to experience an awesome show at the Planetarium, launched more rockets, watched live the first all-female space walk from the ISS, and celebrated the end of our space week by watching Space Chimps with lots of popcorn! Overall, this week was so fun for the entire school and we cannot wait to see what Space Week has in store for us next year!
We have delved deep into the basics of Earth's place in the Universe, our solar system, gravity and orbiting, and the why's and how's of space travel in preparation for the launch (pun intended...) of our Space Week this coming Monday. As a crew, we designed and constructed our very own space station in our classroom! We discussed the purposed of a space station, how astronauts travel, and what type of work they do in outer space. We also discussed how space stations and the moon might help us reach Mars one day. We will be working alongside students of all grade levels next week to study and develop ways that we can get to the Moon and, eventually, Mars through a series of lessons, experiments, and hands-on activities.
John Spencer is the author of a blog I always find to be inspiring and empowering. He says something I wholeheartedly agree with:" We are all creative. Every one of us. And we can tap into this natural creativity when we embrace a maker mindset." It would have been easier for me to spend a bit of extra time after school and make everything for our space station exhibit. Every line would be straight and every piece of our project would have been organized to a tee. However, that is not the purpose of project based learning. The ultimate goal is not to create this beautiful project that receives accolades. While we want to encourage high-quality work from our students, the true learning comes from the experience of creating. By giving the majority of the work over to the students, they utilized our maker space, our resource books, and asked to watch videos to better understand how the sun looked, and made their own choices about what they wanted to include on their control panels, jet packs, and command center. They have ownership of their learning. Although I helped create some of the pieces, the students were absorbed in the process of making their projects and took such pride in the finished result. Their imagination was on fire and they had to problem solve to make their ideas work. We even donned our scientist mindset and went out to observe rocks that could serve as moon rocks in our moon rock exploration bin. One girl declared, "I am going to be a geologist when I grow up!" One thing I love is that, yes, while she could definitely grow up to be a geologist, these young go-getters might have jobs, or create jobs, that don't even exist yet.
Check John Spencer's blog and a glimpse into the 7 things that happen when students own their learning.
And a great link to a video about these 7 things can be found here.
This process, the design, creativity, and execution process, is vital to young learners self esteem and their ability to think critically. Just as we devote much of our classroom time to learning addition, subtraction, letter chunks, and good reading habits, we also devote a lot of time to independent thinking, team building, and growth mindset. Space week will be a blast because of the awesome activities and experiences we have planned but it will also be a time when first grade can proudly display their creativity to others from the school and the community. Why, we even had a few visitors at the end of Friday from the upper grades who thought their space station was a lot of fun!
Aside from our fun and engaging space station project, we experienced a lot of other really fun activities this week. We met with 3rd grade so they could share their Alaskan animal reports with first grade and teach them about their habitats and effects of pollution. We practiced good reading habits and how to support our reading partners and taking turns. Our young scholars learned different strategies to add dominoes - and they even learned how to play the game! As I sent students home this weekend, I kept thinking of how much fun we had this week and that I am not only seeing a lot of growth in their academics but I am also seeing a maturation of their confidence and communication. I see young tinkerers and go-getters in the making.
Creative geniuses, eh? Yes. Your children were born creative geniuses and it is our job to help them keep this spark alive throughout their education. Sir Ken Robinson gave a TedTalk (begin at minute 2:06) in 2006 that is still relevant in 2019. He argues that our children have this innate ability to think outside the box, problem solve, and create solutions that are not only creative but genius. He says, "creativity is as important as literacy - and we should treat it with the same status." These are skills that the 21st century needs in order to create a more sustainable, humane, and prosperous future. I am so excited when I see your children deep in thought and their creativity at work. Add this to developing leadership, teamwork, and communication skills and we have the baby building blocks of a phenomenal next generation of movers and shakers. PNA is a unique place of education where children can flourish not only through academic rigor but also encourages holistic, creative, and personal growth. I believe deeply in guiding children down a path of exploration and discovery, and this week was focused around fueling their curiosity and creativity through various challenges and experiences.
So how did students go about being challenged both academically and creatively? We focused on some fun and interesting design challenges this week. Both challenges had specific parameters, required students to communicate and work in teams, and students had to explain their designs to their peers. And you know what? Students had so much fun, were so serious and engaged, and demonstrated growth mindset. I had on student state, "I was going to give up but I didn't and it finally worked!" This is the mindset our students need to be successful - in school and in life!
This is an awesome article about harnessing creativity and innovation - and highlights some wonderful and updated thoughts from Sir Ken Robinson.
So, what can the design process teach kids? When I first presented the problem and challenge of building something to get Mark, a tiny crayon, up to pick the apples at the height of their chair, many of my students looked at me like I was a bit crazy. One of my very literal students said, "that's impossible, Ms. Lemanski. Crayons cannot move on their own." However, after they were situated in their teams, they quickly began sketching out their ideas and coming up with all sorts of fun designs for their crayon to reach the apples. They only had a few parameters: their design must be free standing and it must be made from materials they found in the classroom. Check out this wonderful and inspiring article about what the design process can teach kids!
Aside from all of our cool design challenges this week, we had a great time at the Alaska Zoo! We got to learn about adaptations, Alaskan Animals, and enjoy a lovely albeit rainy day outdoors! Thanks to our awesome parents, we had a great experience outside the classroom that helped deepen our understanding of animals and supported our animal/biomimicry unit! Adults and children alike were blown away by our up close animal encounter with Cranberry, Anchorage's very own Polar bear!
Check out a few snaps of your kids hard at work below! We had such a fun week together :)
Ms. Tuomi has over five years experience in ASD, where she taught first and fifth grade classrooms. An avid skier, Ms. Tuomi is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Alaska Pacific University’s Bachelor of Arts in K-8 Education.