Contributed by Eileen Fennelly
A Whole New Direction
I was walking through the Kindergarten commons and heard our youngest students singing an original song about the elephants at the zoo. They had recently shared with me that they were researching the African Elephants and they could not wait to tell me what they had learned. Our Kindergarten students had gone to the zoo to begin a project researching different animals, but as they walked around the zoo the project began to take a whole new direction.
“THE CHILDREN WERE MORE FASCINATED BY WHAT THEY COULD NOT SEE THAN WHAT THEY COULD SEE,”
Learning Coach Angie Bush noted that the children were more curious about what was behind the fences of the new habitat than they were about the usual exhibits.
Lindsey Whitehead and the Kindergarten team knew that the children were going to need experts to answer the mountain of questions that was building. They reached out to the architects of The Epsten Groupwho designed the new three story Zambezi Elephant Habitat in Zoo Atlanta and they graciously shared their designs and answered questions for a full hour.
“Mr. Pete and Mr. Nevin are planning the new habitat. You know the elephants never had a good pool now they are going to have a humongous pool!” shared Vikram.
Grace explained, “They have to plan for seven elephants. They only have three now and four more are coming, one is coming all the way from California.”
Project Based Learning is the foundation for our work in the Lower School. Teachers are able to listen to our students and design experiences that engage and excite our learners. As a faculty, we agree that the external experts we have been fortunate to bring to campus have pushed the children’s work to a greater complexity.
Developing Modern Space Travel
Just this spring the fourth grade students benefited from the research of Dr. John Bradford of Spaceworks. They were curious about modern space travel after studying The Age of Discovery. They posed many questions about where exploration is occurring now. Dr. Bradford shared about his work in developing modern space travel and designing rockets to make it possible. His visit became a catalyst to experiments about how rocket thrust works and a visit with Dr. Walker who is in charge of the High-Power Electric Propulsion Lab (HPEPL) at Georgia Tech to investigate and see how you can create conditions in space here on Earth.
Mindfulness: Empathy Continues to be the Message
The experience and perspective of our external experts crosses a wide range of topics but the thread of building empathy continues to be the message that connects to our students. Kindergarten students were concerned that the elephants have a home that was like the Savannah in the Serengeti. Second-grade students learned about different mindfulness strategies that they could use to regulate their emotions when Sarah Bristoe, a mindfulness expert joined them during their Healthy Me unit.
One of the most powerful examples of the student’s ability to empathize is on display in the third-grade Civil Rights project. Nicole Moore the at Curator the Center for Civil and Human Rights, came in to teach the students more about the curation process. She explained to the students that there is no way to tell the whole story in one exhibit, but you can capture the big idea. From there, our students were able to see the importance of symbolism in their exhibit. Each student created a project in the Maker Lab that told of the struggles of different figures in the Civil Rights Movement. When the students spoke to the guests who toured their museum I was struck by how upset some of them were that laws were so unfair and affected everything including baseball!
Recording With an Artist
Circling back to our youngest, but most enthusiastic students, a celebration of the elephants is in the works. The Kindergarteners are singing an original song and local artist Brandon Bush of Train and Sugarland fame is joining our young performers to help them record their first single. I am certain that they will find joy in hearing their recording and that they will be thankful for the help from such a talented and kind external expert.