Welcome to Park Day School's Making Learning Visible Blog
When you walk on to Park Day's campus you can feel the curiosity, joy, and love of learning. Whether five years old or 14, Park Day students know themselves as builders, mathematicians, artists, historians, change makers, and more. Read on to understand more about our school--a community of amazing students and staff who create an integrated learning environment where strong academics, social emotional learning, and social justice create an exceptional foundation on which students build their ongoing education and their lives.
Sixth Graders' Frog Park and Greenbelt Service is Featured in The Rockridge News!Posted by Margaret Piskitel on 4/18/2018 4:00:00 PM
Our sixth graders have been stewarding Frog Park and the Greenbelt through the Community Outreach and Service Learning program. Check out the article which features them and Jeanine, Director of Community Outreach and Service Learning, in The Rockridge News!
Here are some photos of the students working at Frog Park.
Making Thinking Structures Visible: Timelines, Maps, and GridsPosted by Rachel Stone on 4/4/2018
One of my goals in middle school social studies is to give students a framework upon which to place future knowledge and weave it into understanding. In my mind, I think of this like a basket, with points of intersection between space and time. I want students to develop a basic understanding of both the timeline and of physical geography so that they can place new information (history, current events, politics, travel plans, etc.) in an internalized grid of timeline and location. Working with the visual tools of maps, globes and timelines is an important part of our work in humanities.
6th graders have the fun benefit of starting with the very beginning of time, the big bang! We start the year looking at various representations of the timeline of the whole universe. (A favorite short video uses the football field analogy to show the history of planet earth. Spoiler alert: humans are just a blade of grass.) We try our own version: Students are each assigned a key turning point in the history of the universe and figure out a logical chronology along the edge of the field. We discuss where these events would really be spaced if we had a consistent scale, but don’t actually attempt this as it would take us far off campus!
Our classroom has a more human-centered timeline running the length of a wall. It takes us from the bronze age through the near future. When we learn about a civilization, a Pharaoh, or invention, we take the step to locate this event on our classroom timeline. For example, students just learned about the three periods of Egyptian history: often called the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. Even to me, getting to see them visually on our classroom timeline brings home the incredible duration of this civilization. (I can’t wait until we get to China!) A student today pointed out that while we had marked periods when the kingdom of Kush conquered and was conquered by Egypt, we had not marked the important defensive victory against Rome in 24 BCE. She added the post-it note herself, to my delight.
Maps have come up in an interesting way recently as well. The Nile, flowing north into the Mediterranean Sea, gives us a great opportunity to stretch our brains around the fact that the earth is globe-shaped rather than flat, two-dimensional rectangle. As easy as they are to put on a bulletin board or in a binder, sometimes maps actually obscure this. Because Egyptians thought of their life-giving water supply as flowing from the Upper Nile to the Lower Nile, Lower Egypt is actually above Upper Egypt on any typical North-up map. Struggling to wrap our heads around this, a student suggested that we flip the direction of our Nile River map to better match the Egyptian concept. I had an extra copy, so we put the second map upside-down (or South-up) next to the original. In the next class, a student pushed us further to represent our thinking visually. We held the long map of the Nile River between us, and gave it the slight downhill slope that would show how water actually flows into the Mediterranean. (Thinking that the Nile is not actually a waterfall flowing down our classroom walls.) And we put up this third map horizontally. Sixth graders are still quite concrete, but can grasp (and love to puzzle out) new levels of complexity. I loved this moment because students were suggesting how to better use our classroom tools to externalize their thinking.
A third classroom tool we are currently using is more about visualizing a specific way of thinking and categorizing information. Our biggest bulletin board is a grid of ancient river-valley civilizations. Each row identifies an aspect of society or civilization, such as the system of government, religious system, arts and entertainment, or advances in technology. Each column is dedicated to one of the ancient civilizations we study. For example, the first column records our study of ancient Sumer, showcasing images of artifacts we’ve studied in depth, and new facts students found worth pondering. (Carefully paraphrased and with credible sources listed, of course.)
Last week, we looked at Egyptian artifacts (well, replicas) as archaeologists. When putting up images and new information, students had to think through what aspects of civilization each artifact connected to - usually seeing at least two or three options. I love any chance for students to experience that human methods of categorization can be as limiting as they are useful. A complex understanding is much more about the nuances of grey area than binary categories. For example, students wanting to put up an image of The Victory Tablet of Narmer had to make a physical decision of where to place it. The king’s victory is all about the system of government, but it’s also a piece of art showing advances in technology, and it serves as a type of record keeping of the story of Narmer’s conquest. I love that this structure shows the limits of this type of clear categorization while maintaining its usefulness. As with the timeline and the map of the Nile River, students engage actively with these classroom tools. We want our next generations to be empowered to use, critique, and improve methods of representation.
Solving Problems That Arise in Everyday LifePosted by Jeff Allen on 3/22/2018
Whenever we use math to fix a problem or accomplish something, like counting how many plates to put out when guests are coming over for dinner, we create a representation of the situation in our minds and perform mathematical operations on the idea, not necessarily on the physical objects. We don’t need to wait until people actually show up in order to count them.
We’re quite good at this, and have developed such a strong understanding of the process that we can now teach machines to do many of the most tedious calculations for us. When we enter a formula into a spreadsheet cell, we’re modeling some sort of relationship.
One of the Standards for Mathematical Practice at the heart of the Common Core State Standards reads: CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP4 Model with mathematics.
Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. In early grades, this might be as simple as writing an addition equation to describe a situation. In middle grades, a student might apply proportional reasoning to plan a school event or analyze a problem in the community. By high school, a student might use geometry to solve a design problem or use a function to describe how one quantity of interest depends on another. Mathematically proficient students who can apply what they know are comfortable making assumptions and approximations to simplify a complicated situation, realizing that these may need revision later. They are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions. They routinely interpret their mathematical results in the context of the situation and reflect on whether the results make sense, possibly improving the model if it has not served its purpose.
Models are vehicles for understanding things: they give us both a direct experience of the models and a vicarious experience of what they represent at the same time. Playing with toys and dolls is very much this kind of modeling, and animated toys seem to be universally engaging.
A model railroad is a particularly rich toy environment that can represent a wide range of contexts and disciplines: engineering, transportation, commerce, history, politics, physics, communications, geography, geology, botany, economics, manufacturing, architecture, agriculture, labor relations, and so on.
I was introduced to model railroading as a young boy when a family friend retired. Ruby Ames was a Special Education specialist in Richmond and she had built a large model railroad in her K-3 classroom to entertain and engage her students. Ruby helped me dig out a space in our basement for the model railroad I had inherited.
A few years ago here at Park Day School I built a small model railroad called “The Inglenook” to test my hunch that middle school students would respond positively to the experience represented by an animated scale model of very massive moving objects. It was configured to introduce some of the basic logical constructs of sorting and selecting required to assemble a train (a linear system) in a specific order. It used digitally controlled models with authentic sounds so that bell and whistle signals could be used to replicate the way communications gets encoded in a large or noisy environment.
Kids seemed to enjoy it, and it opened up opportunities to talk about many “real-world” applications of the math we were learning: scale, ratio and proportion, surface area and volume, slope, quadratic and even cubic equations for just a few examples.
At the same time, I was discovering that the dimensions and arrangement of structural columns in the classroom resulted in “dead areas” that had poor sight lines to the screen and whiteboard teaching surfaces, areas where I couldn’t seat students during instructional time. Perhaps those spaces could be used for other purposes?
Eventually we decided to extend The Inglenook concept to incorporate more sophisticated switching puzzle possibilities, and the plans for an entire town with numerous rail-served manufacturing facilities emerged. Now, the tasks of building a more elaborate railroad have added many “maker” experiences to complement all of the paper-and-pencil work of the normal math curriculum.
An interesting design challenge for the railroad has been the requirement to empty the room every summer for the summer camp programs, and in October the room gets used for the Mini Maker Faire. Whatever we build must be put away from June through October. Therefore we’ve been building in sections, each a separately installed unit with carefully aligned joints. Each year, students have done the calculations needed to build new sections, and the railroad currently winds three-quarters of the way around the room!
Right now we’re completing the track-laying and electrical work needed to start operating a second town that represents a junction of two railroads and a busy shipping port, where trains arrive from all directions and are broken down into blocks that are routed to new destinations. The nature of railroads as a network of linear systems is adding another layer of mathematical thinking to our model.
Now when I ask students to calculate how many pencils fit into a boxcar, it isn’t the entirely abstract exercise of dividing the volume of a large rectangular prism by the volume of a small octagonal one. After all, they can see the pencil factory, and the boxcar, and the little person loading the crates of pencils right there in front of them.
Design+Make+Engage with Park Day Community Projects!Posted by Ilya Pratt on 3/9/2018
Over the past two months students have been busy with several campus improvement projects supported by the Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop.
Fourth grade has been making improvements to the Nature Zone. They built a shingled bamboo shelving unit to hold baskets of Nature Zone materials, added a stylin’ Nature Zone sign to the entrance arch, and bolted together a slab and tree round to make a table. In addition, signage for how to use the NZ was designed by students and then carved using the Innovation Workshop CNC router.
Hula Hoop Racks and Classroom Storage
Middle school elective students took on two design and build challenges: hula hoop racks and a storage box for Alisa, 3rd-5th grades Spanish teacher. They were able to successfully meet each project’s design criteria such that both racks and storage unit are now in full use!
Build BIG: Middle School Gathering Space
The 7th Grade Mini Course week provided the time for students to complete the second phase of the middle school outdoor gathering space. This space was designed last year by 6th graders during the Innovation Workshop electives course after Park received a donation of 14, 3-inch thick, 16-foot long redwood planks. This was a design thinking project, which began with students considering the various stakeholders served and impacted by the proposed structure. They then researched for inspiration and prototyped several possible solutions. Their ideas came together into a large sculptural bench. Phase 1 build was completed during last year’s Mini Course week.
This was no small project—working with the planks required thoughtful teamwork, serious sawing, and seemingly endless sanding. In addition, students located, dug in and leveled the foundation piers. The build crew was terrific, getting the job done safely and with good humor. Thanks to Jenny Ray for partnering this year, and a big shout out to Jennifer Cooper for partnering through the design process and phase 1 build. Feel free to stop by and climb, sit, or crawl under the benches!
Thank you to Gabi Rossi for facilitating the plank donation, and to the Abundance Foundation for a grant for the additional supplies and tools used to complete this project.
Plinko Problem Solver
This year’s CARE week theme was centered on empathy and kindness here on campus. During the week, Devin’s class decided to see what they could do to help with some of the key conflict times on campus. They engaged in a full design thinking process to identify problem areas, and narrowed their focus to playground conflicts. After brainstorming 100 possible solutions, they prototyped those that met the criteria and then decided to build the Plinko Problem Solver and create a set of accompanying skits to help the community learn to use it. Along the way they had an unplanned math lesson on random outcomes—the foundation for future studies in probability. If you and a friend need support settling a disagreement, try out the Plinko Problem Solver in the lower yard!
From the educator’s perspective, we love the conversations and learnings that happen during these kinds of projects. While their hands are engaged in building—or acting—students engage in rich conversation related to the central topics, usually asking lots of What If…? And What about? questions of each other, naturally going deeper and deeper, uncovering the nuances of these complex topics.
PDS Youth Advocates featured in Oakland Magazine!Posted by Margaret Piskitel on 1/4/2018
Check out the latest edition of Oakland Magazine, pictured below! Our current Fourth Graders are featured for their Third Grade interdisciplinary project learning about and advocating for the Black-Crowned Night Heron as the Official Bird for the City of Oakland. Pick up the latest issue at your local newsstand and don't forget to sign the petition if you haven't already!
Extra! Extra! Read all About It!Posted by Margaret Piskitel on 12/14/2017 4:50:00 PM
Click here to read this year's first edition of The Core, Park Day School's K-8 Newspaper!
One of our Middle School electives, The Core is produced by a group of middle schoolers who are interested in building a basic understanding of journalism and newspaper writing techniques. Students in this elective did all the work to solicit stories and contributions from other K-8 grades and also wrote, researched, and edited the final stories you see contained in this issue. We hope you enjoy their amazing published product!
Math TalksPosted by Becky Bob-Waksberg, 6th Grade Math-Science Teacher on 12/7/2017 8:00:00 AM
This past weekend I presented at the California Mathematics Council North conference and got the opportunity to hear Jo Boaler speak. She shared her research about how much more students are able to think and learn in math when they feel ‘mathematically free.’ It got me thinking about the times I see our 6th graders show a sense of mathematical freedom.
On the first day of 6th grade, students walk into the math classroom to see the number 24 written on the board followed by the instruction, “Record anything you can think of about this number.” Some students don’t believe the instructions at first.
“Anything? Really anything?” they ask.
My answer: “Anything.”
As they work I walk around and share out some of what I’m seeing, such as, “I see students finding factors; I see students using addition and subtraction; I see students thinking about where they see this number out in the world.” Students then share with a partner and write down at least one new idea. I then call on some students to share out with the class and, once again, students must write down a new idea.
We start class with this warm-up routine every day. We call it Math Talk.
There are two main expectations for Math Talk: students need to use up all the work time they are given (there is no such thing as being ‘done’), and they need to challenge themselves.
Within this simple routine are some of the hallmarks of our mathematics program:
- Tasks are low-floor high-ceiling: every student can enter the task, and there are also limitless levels of challenge embedded within it.
- There are multiple paths to correctness: I sometimes hear a myth about math that there is always one right answer. In reality, there are often multiple correct answers depending on the context, and there are almost always multiple strategies for getting to the same answer. When we share ideas in Math Talk, we practice the truth that the correctness of an answer lies in the reasoning and explanation.
- Knowledge is socially constructed: Humans learn from and build on the thinking of others. In Math Talk, students try out ideas they’ve heard from peers on previous days, and trends even arise - last year, showing everything on a number line became all the rage.
- Mathematics centers on curiosity: Mathematicians pose problems and then work at solving them. In Math Talk, students take ownership over deciding what they want to find out about the prompt.
One of the joys of my job is hearing fresh ideas and ways of thinking that I never would have thought of myself. The more mathematically free my students feel, the more energized I become in my teaching and my own mathematical thinking (because yes, the rumors are true - I solve math problems for fun).
The next time you find your family with a few free minutes, try it out: what could you write about 24? You might be surprised with what you come up with yourself, and you might be really surprised by what you learn from your child!
Students Work to Measure and Reduce Food Waste at PDS!Posted by Margaret Piskitel, Assistant Head of School on 11/30/2017 3:50:00 AM
Based on the reflective conversations about food and food justice following the meal and Assembly on our Day of Sharing/Empty Bowls Project day, first and second grade students in Katy and Susan’s classes were struck that our donations on the Day of Sharing could provide 9,000 meals to families in need, and that 40% of food in the United States is wasted.
Together, the two classes discussed, What is a meal? The conversation then led us to wondering about our immediate school community and students wondered, Are kids at Park Day eating all their lunch? Are we wasting food? What are some things kids eat in the lunch line or things kids throw away? How much food goes into the compost bin each lunch time?
The teachers invited Nel, who is the head of Panetto Kitchen (our lunch caterer), to visit the students and pose his problem: “I have a problem that I need some help with. I work in the kitchen. We work hard to get you guys yummy, delicious food and we see a lot of it wasted. Do you have any ideas about what we can do?” Nel estimated that there is probably 20 lbs of compost waste each day. Following Nel’s visit, the first and second graders posed this problem statement: Why is so much delicious food being wasted?
To begin exploring this problem statement, students worked with their teachers and with Ilya (Design+Make+Engage Director) and Jeanine (Director of Community Outreach and Service Learning) to weigh the food waste today, and are aiming to start a campaign to see if they can reduce food waste at Park Day! Not only was this exploration an opportunity to explore the social studies and social justice aspects of the Day of Sharing and Empty Bowls, this emergent extension of those conversations also provided the opportunity for some systems thinking and real world use of math and science.
In preparation for weighing the food, students used a Parts, People, Interaction systems thinking routine to ponder the question, “What are the food systems linked to lunch?” Different kids were given different pictures (compost bins, kids throwing away a whole orange or apple, the lunch line system) and then made connections about how the different parts and people interact.
Students asked Ilya for help with a way to weigh the food. First and second grades used sand, water, and recycled containers to make 5 lb and 1 lb weights. Then they investigated how the scale worked using the weights and Katy’s class teamed up to carry the big scale (a feat in and of itself!) over the the Magnolia Building. They checked their weights using different combinations of the weights they created against the 7lb can of beans, a 5 lb container of sand, and 1 lb water weights. The problem-solving required to make sure the weights were correct was quite a challenge and called upon their growing facility with math facts.
Stay tuned for more on this student-led campaign to reduce the amount of food wasted!
Community Partnerships: Oakland International High SchoolPosted by Jeanine Harmon on 11/10/2017
Community partnerships are at the heart of the Community Outreach and Service Learning program at Park Day School. Thanks to our wonderful location, we have a long history of partnership with our neighborhood OUSD schools. At the end of last year, a new partnership idea was inspired by a collaboration between Katy’s class and Loraine Woodard’s “Survivor English” class at Oakland International High School, a school that serves students who have recently immigrated to the US. The idea: What would it be like to partner first graders and high schoolers who are learning to read English over the course of a school year?
In case you haven’t noticed yet, Park Day School is the kind of place where ideas spark, take flight and burst into life. Thanks to Katy and Loraine, the PDS/OIHS Reading Buddies project was born and successfully launched this fall.
The joys and challenges faced by emergent/early readers and English language learners are remarkably similar. Students in each class are working on developing and strengthening their literacy skills. Each student is also learning how to be brave and resiliant. Once a month, the students from Katy’s class and Loraine’s class will get together for some “buddy time,” where students will get to know each other through the practice of reading. Each OIHS student is partnered with one or two first graders. Through these partnerships, the students will have the opportunity to practice reading to each other in a fun, supportive environment.
The plan is to alternate schools for each visit so the students can experience what it’s like to be in an older/younger classroom, as well as what it’s like to be a guest and a host. Our first graders recently had their first visit to OIHS. It was exciting to watch our first graders step inside and see what their high school buddy’s classroom looked like. After a few shy moments, the first graders found their buddies and settled in to listen to them read. When I looked around the room I saw pairs and trios sitting at tables, heads bent together over a book. There were smiles and giggles mixed with quiet moments of concentration. Every once in a while, I’d catch a first grader looking at their buddy with absolute wonder and admiration.
During our visit, I noticed that the bookshelves in Loraine’s classroom had room for a lot more books. After checking in with her, and then with our second graders who are leading our annual book drive campaign, we all decided that it was a fantastic idea to share some of the books with OIHS. Having access to great books makes learning to read a lot more fun! Wouldn’t you agree?
After the first graders returned to Park Day Katy posed a question to the group: What did you notice when your high school buddy read to you? One student said, “I heard someone’s voice that was different from mine and it made me happy.” Another student said, “I think our buddies need a little more practice reading English.” Katy posed another question: How can we all support them in this goal? What followed was a lovely discussion about what it’s like to learn a whole new language, what it’s like to learn how to read and how we are all learning and practicing reading together. Conversations like these not only open our eyes, they open our hearts.
Year after year, we see how our community partnerships create rich and rewarding learning opportunities for all participants in both planned and unexpected ways. Learning together really IS better!