Our E-STEAM Approach Has Students Out in the Woods

Emily Willey teaches science to first through fourth graders and takes a unique approach to daily science class.

Students in these grades have an on-going project of designing, constructing, maintaining and improving upon fairy houses in the school’s Outdoor Learning Center. This is because Willey views the forest as an extension of her classroom.

Before beginning fairy houses, Willey takes her students outdoors to introduce a variety of science topics throughout the school year.  At least every other week, students are outside learning and interacting with untamed nature. They see birds they don’t get to see in their backyards and find bugs, larvae, caterpillars, lichens, fungi, turtles and more.

For many years, the charter school has worked diligently to make their curriculum and campus an E-STEAM environment. E-STEAM stands for entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, agriculture & arts, and math.  Willey introduces fairy and hobbit houses to her students with this precise focus in mind.

Students design these miniature forest homes. They find ideal building locations and search for natural building materials. They troubleshoot building techniques, learn how to use basic tools for secure construction, explore design principles, and experiment with sustainable building techniques such as building out of clay or cob.

Willey notes that these fairy house projects help students build on their engineering skills and says the project gives students a safe environment to create with no rules.

“It is helpful for students who are intimidated in a classroom setting to be outdoors and have unstructured play and creative freedom while interacting with nature,” says Willey. “There is no wrong way to build these miniature homes and to watch students who may be timid in class slowly come into their own as they get to build outside has been nothing but inspiring.”

Pollinator Gardens on Our Campus

Both kindergarten and middle school students at The Learning Center Charter School spent several days in early May planting pollinator gardens on campus. A pollinator garden is planted predominately with flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a wide range of pollinating insects.

Pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, bees, flies and beetles are essential to creating and maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that many animals rely on for food and shelter.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, pollination helps at least 30% of the world’s crops and 90% of wild plants to thrive. Without pollinators, many plants and food crops would die off.

Students at the charter school have designated numerous plots on the campus as pollinator gardens.  They have planted sunflowers, zinnias, dahlias, marigolds, bachelor buttons, cosmos and four o’clock flowers in these gardens. They have done everything from weed, rake, plant, label and water these gardens and look forward to seeing gorgeous flowers bloom all summer long.

Gardening has always been important at the school as Director, Mary Jo Dyre, believes that gardening engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn. Dyre has built a culture at the school on the premise that gardens are living laboratories that encourage students to become active participants in the learning process.

School Outdoor Learning Coordinator, Emily Willey, said, “In this instance, students have learned the science behind pollination for insects, birds and plants as well as the importance of it for food production.  The blooms beautifying the campus are an added bonus.”

2nd Grade Earth Day Project from Spring 2018

Back in April, students in second grade completed an Earth Day unit. Through literature , technology, writing, and science, the students learned about the importance of caring for planet earth by recycling, reducing and reusing.

To complete the unit, the children completed a lap-book project in which they were able to showcase all they learned through a fun, interactive activity.

Community Partnerships — Dr. Mitchell Visited Kindergarten

Working with our community partners and larger “Community of Learners” is important at our school. Tapping into the expanded knowledge that folks in our community can offer our students enables our teachers to expand their classrooms beyond four walls.

A perfect example of this is when last Spring, Dr. Mitchell visited the kindergarten class and discussed how he is a community helper by being a doctor. He talked to the students about what he does and even gave each student a pair of gloves and mask. Students got to listen to his heartbeat and ask loads of questions.

Thank you Dr. Mitchell for being a fantastic community partner!

1st Grade Gnomes

Before school let out for summer break, first graders learned about using natural resources to make toys. They upcycled cloth and yarn and combined it with sticks gathered in The Outdoor Learning Center (TOLC.) Students sawed and carved the sticks to make gnomes. They learned about diversity by being exposed to the different mythical creatures of the wood- fairies gnomes and trolls. The students had a wonderful time and were assisted by Ms. Katie and parent visitor Ms Tina

Muddy Sneakers Expeditions Part II

You might remember that back in March, Fifth Grade students went on their first Muddy Sneakers Expedition.  In May, they  had a fantastic time at their final excursion. They went to Fires Creek and studied Aquatic Ecosystems.

They had a blast as it was the perfect time of year to study ecosystems. They  saw every stage of a salamanders life cycle, a couple types of snakes, and found out how to check water pollution by investigating bug life in the water and so much more.

According to teacher, Ms. Jay, “Students absolutely loved this experience!”

Why does our school put an emphasis on gardening?

Back in May, third graders got outside to continue working on their fairy houses, condominiums, resorts, and playgrounds. Students choose to work in groups or alone to refine their architecture. These are fluid and change over time as their ideas evolve. In the process students discover unique ecology in the woods like weird charcoal growths on dead sticks, salamanders buried under the dirt, tree nuts sprouting into seedlings, winged queen ants, etc.

Students at TLC aren’t strangers to getting their hands dirty.  Why?  Because gardening engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn.

Gardens are living laboratories where our students learn everything from team work to food production and lessons can be taught across the curriculum.

Gardening encourages students to become active participants in the learning process.

The beautification of our campus is a happy result of hands on learning!

5th Grade Science — Ecosystems

Earlier this spring, fifth grade students learned about biomes and had to recreate a biome of their choice.

They did these at home while the class worked on a PBL project (Project Based Learning) on Ecosystems in the classroom. Some students chose biomes based on what they worked on in class, while others created something completely different.

They had to include five animals, from carnivore to decomposers, three plants, and were encouraged to be as creative as possible.

5th Grade Learning About Real World Jobs

Back in May, a student’s dad visited the fifth grade class to talk about his jobs.  He’s both a mechanical engineer and a pilot in the Air Force Reserves. This was in line with a science unit the class did earlier in the year about force and motion.

He works for Snap-on Tools as well as serving in the AF Reserves flying the C-130.  He brought components he helps design for Snap-on and talked about how he became both a pilot and a mechanical engineer.

The kids were really impressed and asked great questions.

Living History Museum 2018

Back in May, upper grade students “opened” a Living History Museum to the younger grades. These older students each selected a historic figure and not only presented information about that person, but dressed like them as well. They essentially became that historical figure.

For this project, these upper grade students had to synthesize the information they learned to create an exhibit representative of their subject. In order to select pivotal events or recreate significant circumstances in an individual’s life, students had to research the person but also critically evaluate the people, places, and events surrounding them in order to develop a powerful exhibit. Deciding on a format, selecting key material for younger students to understand, and putting it all in context required active learning and encouraged creative interpretation. As they worked, students needed to understand the subject and the world in which he or she lived.  Additionally, this Living History Museum introduced younger students to subjects relevant to their history studies beyond their reading ability.