Acera Snapshots: December 2014

Acera Snapshots: December 2014

Today there was incredible art being made in the Innovation Lab and fantastic, engaging cooking smells wafting in from the Commons!

Here are some observations from a brief walk-through each classroom during one December afternoon:

  • In Eva’s lower elementary class, students are working at different stations. Some students are configuring a “mountain” for their ongoing Block City project. At this station, the students are arranging the mountain’s layout to align with their previously graphed map design. I see intense learning about scale and perspective taking! Another group works on the amusement park for the Block City, building roller coasters out of K’nex. At another station, there is a Robot Turtles game in progress. Some students work with Cubelets, experimenting with how the cubes can be changed to make the resulting robot do different things – move, stop, light up, roll, etc. One student at the Cubelets station is writing about an army robot he has built with the Cubelets, and he is drawing a picture of his design to go with his writing piece. Two of our youngest kindergarten students are working on weaving and knot tying, thus developing fine motor skills.
  • In Katie’s intermediate elementary class, students are working in groups of three to make beautiful “Japanese screen”-inspired murals. This art project is part of a larger unit of study about Japan. The students are making the “screens” from cardboard panels, with imagery that can spread across the panels to connect them. Students explain that they planned the panel designs out on paper first, then sketched images onto the board for layout, and then added more details to enrich the final product. For this project, Katie and Anthony are working with the students in arts area of the Acera Innovation Lab. (Anthony works with the core teachers to lead engaging arts activities with Eva, Katie, and Amy’s classes each week.)
  • In Amy’s intermediate elementary class, students work as individuals or in pairs using magnitude meters to measure the structural stability of their own housing designs under the stresses of different types of earthquakes. This project is just one facet of their geology/earth sciences unit from this fall. The students are fully engaged, all while practicing the skills of observation, inspiration, iterative design, engineering, collaboration, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
  • In Nicole’s upper elementary class, students are working on their memoir writing projects, and there is a quiet hum of some talking, lots of concentrating, and some collaborative discussion. Some students are working on the floor, some are working at tables, and two students are having a peer conference in the breakout room. Students are taking turns having one-on-one coaching sessions with Nicole. A sheet with writing rubrics is out in front of many students, and they are referencing it while they write and edit. A student shows me the rubrics sheet, which has five different criteria. The student explains to me that the most important rubric is the “memorable moment, because it is basically the climax of the memoir. We are trying to focus on a memorable moment when something changed in our lives. A surprising number of students are doing the moment when they came to Acera, including me.” The student explains further, “I think that style and technique are also important. The idea is ‘show, don’t tell’. Basically, you show important parts of the story through characters’ actions, dialogue, comparisons, and thoughts and by using descriptive language.”
  • In Christine’s upper elementary class, students are in the Commons and kitchen area cooking with the help of Kim, Reed, Michael, and Christine. The class has been focusing recently on globalization. Kim Machnik explains to me, “We talked about different early trade networks, and then we moved into the Age of Discovery, which extended and connected global networks. This cooking project is part of a discussion we had about the importance of the history of food and how it ties into trade networks, for example, okra in the South, which slaves brought it from Africa. This project gives students a global perspective but also helps them work concretely on their research skills.” As part of this cooking project, students first considered where different foods originated, and the route by which they traveled to America. Then, two students who had chosen two different ingredients were paired together, and they generated recipes from the two ingredients. Today, the students are testing out their recipes, which include green onion cornbread, white chocolate grapes, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, apple crisp, vegan chocolate pudding, and more! (Food allergies and needs were navigated appropriately, of course.)
  • In the Middle School, students are in “Inquiry Time”, where they are actively engaged in researching, building, and interviewing people for their school stewardship Maker Projects. These projects were defined by the students as a way to address a need at Acera and take action to lead and implement a solution. Two students are painting and cleaning a wall, as they decided that their first attempt at a mural was “really messed up”. They decided to start over. Two students interview me about ways to showcase student works and a new possible offering for a Creativity Morning class. One student is finishing up programming a new PIN system for student sign-in to Middle School each day. (This same student has also just created a prototype program that will likely be used as a bidding system for Acera’s Love to Learn auction this spring!) In the Construction Zone of the Innovation Lab, two students are at work on their soccer scoreboard. They are using a saw, a drill, clamps, handsaws, screws, tape measures, body weight/momentum, and strength. They explain, “In every recess soccer game we lose track of the score, so we decided to improve Acera by making a scoreboard to keep track. The scoreboard will also be a nice decoration. We want to upgrade the whole recess and soccer experience. We are also working on upgrading the soccer field with barriers and painted lines.”