• 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.

  • Community Partnerships: Oakland International High School

    Posted 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?


    none 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.


    pic 1 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!




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  • Learning in Context

    Posted by Karen Colaric on 11/2/2017 2:20:00 PM

    How many ways can creative ten year olds wear a bandana? They are an important practical fashion accessory on our fourth grade annual trip to the Sierra foothills to learn about the impact of the gold rush on California’s people and environment. This year’s class may have broken the record on ways to wear their bandanas.


    Starting in the fourth grade at Park Day, we begin the laborious but rewarding task of taking students on overnight field trips where the majority of time is spent outdoors. These trips meet several goals related to our mission: investigating past and present social justice issues; social-emotional learning and fostering a sense of environmental stewardship. And, there are significant tie ins to the grade level curriculum content. But why go through the effort to take them off campus and out of the four walls of the classroom? Can’t they learn most of this here at school?


    The idea that “place” could be a significant educational tool was proposed by John Dewey in an essay he wrote in 1897. He proposed that we “make each of our schools an embryonic community . . . with types of occupations that reflect the life of the larger society.” Others have gone on to describe the educational and health benefits of outdoor education to children, particularly our urban students who spend a great deal of their lives indoors or surrounded by buildings and asphalt.


    Taking the fourth graders to the town of Coloma in the Sierra foothills, where many elementary texts state that James Marshall “discovered” gold in 1848, was a trip that enabled kids to get out of their comfort zones and test their resilience away from home, out in the sun and dust, right where it all happened. Along the way, they learned many facts about the impact of the gold rush on what is now the state of California, both socially and environmentally. They learned how to bake cornbread in a covered skillet over some hot coals, quite a bit about the lucrative nature of the blacksmith trade and grocery store over the typical gold seeker, and had their curiosity peaked in several other areas.


    However, in observing and interacting with the children on the trip, the biggest impact was the sense of place and history as they peeked in a mini-museum of Chinese Store, still standing, and the cultural significance of that business to the Chinese community present at the time. Bits of the Monroe orchards are still present, and the family’s historical significance in the area is clearly noted in family photographs and the story of how they earned enough to save a family member from enslavement. Or, the hardships endured in daily life, safety and survival, simply to cook a meal. They were most proud of simply making it through the long hike along the  Monroe Ridge, where the view from atop stopped them in their tracks because it looked like “a painting at a museum.” Flora-Fauna Arianna, one of our naturalists, finds the most meaning in her work when she’s able to help foster an altered world-view in which humans aren’t the only narrative—where humans, animals, plants, and all that it takes to sustain life and thrive are seen for their interdependence. They also learned about implications that are ethical, political and social. At campfire one evening, our American Indian speaker, Kathleen Shining Star told them that she resists recording her stories because she knows the impact that she has when she tells those stories personally to them. She explained that they’ll store her story in a different part of their brain and hearts when she tells it to them, and appealed to them as the next generation of stewards of the land and each person’s unique cultural heritage.


    The motto of Coloma Outdoor Discovery School is “learn about the past to change the future.” Our students came back ready to learn more about this period of time and how it impacted lives then and now. And, if you ask them what they liked best and remember, it will likely be their awe of the beauty of the rapids in American River and the thrill of crossing it by foot on a small bridge, how precious the deer family seemed that repeatedly came into camp, and their favorite way to wear their bandana.

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  • The East Bay Mini Maker Faire, STEM and Emergent Curriculum

    Posted by John Orbon on 10/26/2017 12:00:00 PM

    The term  "emergent curriculum” is used to describe a way of planning opportunities for students in response to children's interests, to create meaningful learning experiences. 


    Yesterday, a beautiful thing happened in our Innovation Workshop, when a group of our 5th, 6th and 7th graders charged into the Innovation Workshop elective still brimming with excitement about their time at our East Bay Mini Maker Faire* this past Sunday. 



    Students said that they wished the giant AirPusher actually left the ground. They all quickly agreed that making it leave the ground would be the easy part. Doing it safely would be harder…


    Ilya's “design challenge” riffed off of the AirPusher art piece that was at the Faire. Ilya tasked the student groups with designing and building airships using helium balloons that left the ground and maintained equilibrium under the roof of the Innovation Workshop.


    Energent 1

    Parameters were reviewed. Materials were investigated. Plans were drawn-up, evaluated and iterated. Some student groups used digital scales to estimate how to balance lift and payload. Other groups made pieces of ballast that were tiny, and equal-sized. 


    Emergent 2


    There was a wonderful exchange of student generated theories  as to why their airships were cycling up and down even after the optimum weight of the ship was established to offset the lift. In particular, students incorporated concepts of convection as they observed that hot air rises and cooler air falls.


    Emergent 3


    Discussions continued the next day, as kids of all ages stopped in to see what was going on with the silver helium baloons–which were, in the cooler morning hours, floating lower than they had the afternoon before–confirming some of their theories on convection.


    Emergent 4


    At the end of the day, each group developed solutions that the AirPusher folks would love–and, more importantly, solutions that they loved!


    (For those who haven’t experienced it, the East Bay Mini Maker Faire brings 150+ makers together with over 6,500 visitors to our campus for an amazing day of interactive discovery. A natural extension of our classrooms and our progressive pedagogy, our Mini Maker Faire is a celebration of hands-on making, tinkering, doing and learning.)



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  • Exploring DACA

    Posted by Erica Morales on 10/19/2017 3:20:00 PM

    What does a sanctuary city need? What does it mean to be brought to our country as a child, grow up here, and find out you are undocumented? This fall, our 7th and 8th grade Spanish classes integrated elements of social justice, current events, design, and social emotional learning (SEL) with a unit on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and changes to the policy.  


    Over the last three weeks, students have been learning and gathering information about DACA in various forms and from various sources. Students read articles and then used a jigsaw technique to build vocabulary and touch on underlying themes; students also viewed an interview of a DACA recipient in Spanish and learned about the process of becoming a DACA recipient and what it might mean for recipients if DACA is repealed. In addition students had the opportunity to consult an expert on this issue; I invited Public Defender, Ariel Toran, to join us in the 7th Grade classroom. He shared about the experiences of his immigrant clients and how the current political climate may affect them in particular.


      kids    kids 2


    As we were exploring this issue, Governor Jerry Brown officially declared California a sanctuary state. We then were able to discuss the significance of this declaration: That California doesn’t have to comply with the demands of ICE, including not giving up personal information of California immigrants. Students are now aware of the various effects of DACA as well as its repeal.


    As the culminating project for this unit, students designed and built their own sanctuary cities, making sure to include potential social services provided to DACA recipients. They considered the needs of immigrant communities as they try to navigate the systems of a new country and used design principles to explore the process. Along the way, students expanded their Spanish vocabulary and focused on grammar such as relevant verbs and interrogatives. Students will present their sanctuary cities, las ciudades sanctuarias, next week in Spanish class. In addition, classes will get to present their santuary cities to the 2nd Graders, who study immigration over the course of the school year. This collaboration provides the younger students with an opportunity to learn from the middle schoolers and deepen their understanding by hearing about a current immigration issue alongside investigations of their own backgrounds and histories so that they can compare and contrast similarities and differences among the many stories in our community and beyond.


    ¡La gente unida, jamás será vencida! 


    city 1     city 2

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  • Developing Learning for Living

    Posted by Margaret Piskitel, Assistant Head of School on 10/12/2017

    Recently, an alumni parent referred to Park Day as an immersion school where the second language is Social Emotional Learning. This year, our school’s theme "How do I take responsibility for practicing kindness, empathy, and mutual respect at Park Day School?" provides a starting point for how we frame some of our professional development for the year, and add to our educator’s classroom toolboxes. As program administrators, our goals this year are to strengthen our K-8 understanding of progressive education academically, with a social justice lens, and as reflected in last week’s Professional Development day, with an eye to further developing and articulating our K-8 scope and sequence in Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

    The empathy, relationship skills, and compassionate understanding for others that our students develop over their time at Park Day may look effortless, but is, in fact, due to teacher expertise, collaboration, and continuous professional development. Our teachers are experts and lifelong learners in human development at their grade levels (and often beyond!), adept researchers, and staunch collaborators with each other -- all with the end goal of helping their students make progress each year in individual and group social and emotional development.

    This past Tuesday, our in-house professional development day focused on student indicators of SEL at each grade level. We explored how that scope directly enhances and deepens the strong academic and arts program at Park Day, and the ways it helps shape our students beyond graduation. We often hear from high school teachers who have Park Day students in their classrooms, that those students are the kindest leaders, and are among the most compassionate and empathetic advocates for their peers and their community. These high school educators tell us that many students know how to write, but Park Day students know how to write AND have something to say with a deep understanding of audience and perspective. Attributes like these are a result of an immersion in social emotional learning alongside academic building blocks and skill development.

     Professional development days are precious times when our staff can be together to dive deeper into strengthening our unified approach to teaching and learning so that we can actualize our vision of a Park Day graduate: a changemaker who has integrity, kindness, courage, curiosity and is engaged in the world and in their own learning. Building this shared language and diving into indicators of social emotional learning together supports ownership by students of this learning for living.

    Our teachers inspire me as they lead our young students in this deeply integrated educational, social-emotional journey and this professional development only deepens the already amazing work our students are engaged in. For example, last week our 4th Grade Dragon Orchids, led by Ben and Laura, sent out this message to their families:

    We have a class name and a mission statement. We are the Dragon Orchids! Last week as a class we collectively brainstormed values in five categories; We are...We believe...We value...We want...We agree to... We looked at Park Day School's mission statement and other mission statements from organizations around the world. We then highlighted our most important values and each student wrote a class Mission Statement of their own. With the help of Laura, we collaborated together as a class to revise and craft our final mission statement:

    "We are the kind, creative, compassionate, epic, imaginative, curious, Dragon Orchids. We believe in animal safety, self respect, and dragons. We believe that appreciations, honesty, and empathy will heal and bring more peace into the world. We value humor, joy, and friendship. We want our community to be built with care, equality, freedom, and support. We agree to be inclusive and to problem solve independently, cooperatively, and non-violently. We commit to practicing thoughtful communication, attentive listening, and mutual respect with one another. We are the Dragon Orchids."

    We look forward to watching the Dragon Orchids hold this mission statement this year alongside the other ways they and their fellow K-8 students will continue to deepen their skills. And finally, we hope you, our families, will join us in our journey to practice kindness, empathy and mutual respect at Park Day School!

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  • The Power of K-8 Education

    Posted by Erik Carlson, Interim Middle School Director on 10/3/2017 4:00:00 PM

    Often when I ask parents to recall 6th grade and the start of the middle school experience, they revert to their eleven or twelve year old self with a sigh and an eye roll.  Some describe themselves as puny and detail exactly when they were picked to be on a team at recess or who finished the math test before them.  Others remember feeling ill-equipped to navigate “the drama.”  Everybody else, they recall, seemed to have it all together.  My 6th grade experience was different.  What stands out to me was the playground, and learning jacks from a girl name Julie, and trading baseball cards with my best friend Chris.  We perfected our secret shots in handball on a small sliver of blacktop and our teacher, Ms. Gillman, reminded us that the rest of the campus was following our lead as to how to behave.  I recall youthful joy and empowerment.  One difference that we identified was that in my school district in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, 6th grade was the end of elementary school-- I wasn’t the youngest in a group of pre-teens and early teens, I was one of the oldest in our school community.


    It turns out that there is ample research to conclude that the grade span of a school makes a difference.  Students in the sixth grade, just entering early adolescence, have so many things going on socially and bio-chemically, that it required an extensive, multi-year study to try to narrow down determining factors in their school experience.  This study supports the “top dog/bottom dog” theory that when 6th graders are among the oldest students in the school, even if they just transferred into the school, they feel safer, with a greater sense of belonging.  To that end, a school that combines elementary and middle school is optimal for a sixth grader.  This is supported and expanded by renowned child psychologist and author Dr. Michael Thompson.  In his book, Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children, Dr. Thompson states:  “If I could design psychologically safe schools, every elementary school in the United States would go from kindergarten through grade eight and would be no larger than four hundred children.”  


    Over my career, I have served schools comprising a variety of grade spans: 7-12, 9-12, 6-12, and K-8.  Great schools are intentional about leveraging their span.  What I appreciate most about the K - 8 school is that it sees children as children.  There are play structures on campus, which the elementary students dominate at recess, but are great reminders of imagination and unfettered joy for the adolescents.  It is not uncommon to see middle school big buddies, or even high school alumni, returning to campus for community service, chasing their younger buddies on the slides, ladders, and towers.  The Pals program, pairing middle school students with elementary students, gives opportunity for authentic student leadership and practice with intentional social learning training.  In the K - 8 environment, distinct time is devoted to social learning in Advisory Meetings.  We recognize that strong interpersonal skills correlate to effective lab partners, project groups, sports teams, and music ensembles.  Furthermore, in this time dedicated to building relationships, students come to discover that someone on campus truly cares about them.


    The culmination of a school in 8th grade provides a natural opportunity for students to go through a transition when they need it.  From the safety and comfort of the K - 8 environment, it is time to test out their self-concept.  Exploring new schools provokes questions such as: How do I like to spend my time? What type of environment do I feel most like myself?  How do I learn best? This high school admissions process spurs valuable conversations between students and their parents.  Whereas at a younger age a decision to attend a new school may largely belong to the adults, the choice of a high school can be an empowering time for an 8th grade student.  


    By focusing on the key developmental needs of children as they develop through adolescence, the K - 8 school not only embraces the joy of young children and early adolescents, but also encourages their leadership.

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  • Box Day... "Let’s Make Our Friends An Indoor Swing Set!"

    Posted by Ilya Pratt on 9/26/2017


    What does a friendship space look like to you?

    What would it include that would help you to strengthen your friendships?

    ...Perhaps an indoor swing set, an ice cream factory and delivery truck, a comfortable bunk bed, bookshelves with books, or a tool rental station? These were some of the spaces Second Graders built for each other during their Box Day last week.


    2nd Box Day


    For their Box Day, First Grade focused on two central questions:

    What makes a community?

    What are the kinds of places that people build to support a community?


    1st Box Day


    Third Grade students reflected on and shared their individual identities, bringing elements of home and self into cardboard models of their living spaces.


    3rd Box Day


    Community, friendship and identity are central themes throughout Park Day, especially during the beginning of our school year as we come together to form a supportive learning environment. Box Days in the younger grades are one example of this work, providing a hands-on building opportunity to explore these abstract concepts. Over the course of the year we’ll continue to revisit these concepts, and have these “concrete” experiences to refer back to.


    From the educator’s perspective, it’s interesting to look a little more deeply at this kind of project. It is a good example of how we weave together our learning priorities, including those of the Design+Make+Engage (DesignME) program. There are, in fact, many levels of learning going on both for students AND teachers.


    Take second grade. The week before the build day, students go through a partner interview and document the resulting design goals. Empathy/understanding others’ needs is prioritized as the student partners are asked to design and plan a structure that includes elements of particular interest to another pair of students. Putting aside their own ideas and listening to those for whom they are designing can be very challenging--this is no small ask for this age group!


     Plan Books


    Through both the designing phase and building, there is a high degree of cooperation needed. Partners must combine their ideas in their plans, draw them to their satisfaction, and then on the build day, translate the 2-D design into a 3-D structure. Engineering, often present in DesignME projects, then comes into play. (This year we had an unusually windy day, and our second grade parent volunteers will attest to the fact that the engineering students had to do to ensure their designs stayed put was significant!)


     Katy Box Day


    The learning the teachers are doing is equally important; across each of the grades, these projects serve as valuable assessment tools as they provide an engaging opportunity to witness each student’s collaboration skills, frustration tolerance, resilience, fine motor skills, planning, organization, visual-spatial skills–among others– come to light. In the first days of the school year, this project is one of the ways we quickly develop an understanding of each student that will immediately inform lessons, groupings, projects, pace and differentiation.

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