Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Almost Here

The long awaited day will soon be here!  Our Kindergarten and 1st grade learners will be sharing their learning at the K/1 Enrichment Cluster Showcase on Friday, May 31st at 8:00 a.m.  They have been working incredibly hard and are very eager to show the world what they have accomplished!  We hope you will be able to join us as we celebrate the efforts of these young learners!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fashion Show: A Real World Learning Adventure

Did you know that we have a fashion design studio right here at Austin Elementary?  That's right!  We have a group of approximately 16 young ladies who, several weeks ago, decided they wanted to learn the skills necessary to design, create, and model their own fashions.  And what's even more amazing is that these young ladies were not just thinking of themselves when they made this decision.  They were looking for a way to use their interests and talents to make the world a more beautiful place.  

These young ladies have learned how to use a sewing machine, read patterns, measure models, count stitches, up-cycle old clothing, create hems, and so much more.  They have
met every challenge head on and have overcome every obstacle they encountered.  Don't know how to sew?  No problem!  We'll find some experts to teach us.  Fabric is too expensive?  No worries.  We'll take apart old clothing and create something new.  Production not moving fast enough?  Let's recruit more volunteers.  For every problem, they have found an answer.  Persistence and task commitment have characterized their work every step of the way!

So now, their plan is put on a fashion show highlighting the designs they have created.  The show will take place on Friday, May 31st at 2:00 p.m. in the Austin Elementary cafeteria.  Admission to the show is free...well, almost free.  They are asking that every visitor donate one can of food as the cost of admission.  This food will be used to supplement the food pantry at Austin Elementary.  This food pantry helps to provide food for families in need right here in Coppell!  But the girls do not plan on stopping there!  They want to take their efforts a step further.  They have arranged to auction off their creations on the day of the fashion show and donate all proceeds to a charity that has yet to be determined.  I can't wait to hear what they decide!

While all of this may be very exciting, some of you may be wondering why this is happening during the school day.  Why aren't these children busy learning math or developing their writing skills?  Why aren't they using this class time to improve their reading or learn more about our earth and the world around them? Those are valid questions.  In fact, those are great questions, and ones the girls took some time to examine early on in the process.  When challenged to justify the use of class time to pursue this endeavor, here is what the girls came up with.
  • We are learning to measure.
  • We are building our vocabulary.
  • We are developing reading comprehension.
  • We are using scientific observations and evaluating various fabrics and tools.
  • We are learning to convert inches, feet, and yards.
  • We are collaborating and using teamwork to create our designs.
That's quite a list, especially when you consider that it was generated by a group of 10 year old girls who are excited about their learning and passionate about the contribution they are making to our world.  And while I believe this is a great list, I would like to add some observations of my own.  While working on this authentic, real world project these young ladies are...
  • building verbal communication skills as they interact with each other, community volunteers, and school administration to coordinate the fashion show.
  • developing their writing skills as they develop flyers, programs, and other materials.
  • learning to effectively use electronic communication tools to coordinate with each other and the school administration. 
  • developing creativity, problem solving skills, and persistence in the face of challenges.
  • learning that they have the ability to make a valuable contribution to our world.
  • learning to manage the details of a multi-faceted project including timelines, budgets, division of labor, advertisement, and communication.
  • building relationships, not only with their peers, but with adults throughout the school and in the community.
  • receiving the message that they matter.  Their talents, their strengths, their passions, their interests...they matter!
So, lets go back to those original questions.  Why aren't they using this time to learn math, reading, writing, and science?  The truth is, they are!  These traditional academic skills are embedded into every facet of this project. While it clearly looks very different from the traditional classroom many of us grew up in, the learning that is taking place is authentic, meaningful, and powerfully real.  The more important question, I believe, is what is preventing us from doing this more often?  What is holding us back from meeting our learners where they are?  And where do we go from here?  How do we, as educators, move forward in a world that is demanding creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and global awareness?  Maybe, just maybe, we should ask our learners!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sneak Peek - Part 1

Our Kinder / First Grade Enrichment Clusters are now in full swing, and our learners are busy exploring everything from simple machines to fossils, and constellations to chemistry!  They are excited about learning and are beginning to prepare to celebrate that learning at the Kinder / First Grade Enrichment Cluster Showcase taking place on Friday, May 31st.  Keep reading for a preview of some of the excitement that will be part of that special day.

Woodworking Wizards are using their measuring skills to design and create decorative chalkboard doors to be used as message boards at Austin Elementary.

Trash to Treasure Enrichment Cluster members created a mustang collage out of up-cycled magazines.  Their friends in the Woodworking Wizards Cluster then agreed to create a frame for this beautiful piece of art.  I can't wait to see the final product!

This group is learning all about the importance of conservation as they explore the many ways we can reuse and recycle Earth's natural resources.  As part of this exploration, these young learners are excitedly creating paper bead necklaces using magazines as their primary resource.  

In Tinkering with Toys, kindergarten and first grade learners are exploring the art of invention, design and engineering as they deconstruct old toys, using what they find to create their very own inventions.  Through these explorations, they are gaining an understanding of simple machines and how they are used to make our lives easier.

We may be seeing the birth of some future sportscaster careers as the young learners in Sports Center: Austin Style explore the skills necessary to design, create, and produce a sports centered newscast.  These young sports reporters are learning to write scripts, interview, film, edit, and so much more as they work together to produce the first ever Austin Elementary sports cast.   They hope to share their final product with the learners, educators, and families of Austin Elementary.

Endangered Animals of Texas cluster members are very busy researching, writing, and filming an exclusive documentary designed to increase understanding and awareness of of the plight of endangered animals in the Lone Star State.

Learners in the Altered Books Enrichment Cluster are also knee deep in research as they explore a topic of their choice and use their new found understanding to design a one of a kind book creation.  These young artists/writers are up-cycling old, worn out books into something new and fresh to be shared with others in their community.

Our Eco-Friends are learning how human behavior is linked to global warming and other threats to Earth's environment.  They are working together to look for ways that they can encourage those around them to make healthier choices for our ailing planet.

As you can see, our kindergarten and first grade learners are working hard, making new discoveries, and collaborating with their peers to find innovative ways to make a difference in our school, in our community, and in our world.  As they come together each week to continue working toward their self determined goal, they are learning to persist in the face of obstacles, solve problems creatively, and communicate effectively with both peers and adults.  

Tune in next week to see the many other ways our youngest learners are making an impact on our world, and be sure join us on Friday, May 31st between 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. as we celebrate their efforts and recognize their creative accomplishments!