Thursday, April 16, 2015 0 comments

Spring: A time for Reflection at Spicewoood

"We don't learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience." -John Dewey

Each Spring Spicewood students engage in a reflection that connects them to the collaborative goals they set at the beginning of the year, and has them sharing a year's worth of celebrations with their families. It is so exciting to see them flipping through the pages of their portfolios, eyes opening wider at each page as they look at their work from the year, and mark their progress with smiles and pride!
All Spicewood students will engage in portfolio conferences on May 6th. From kindergarten to 5th grade, Spicewood's learners lead and facilitate their own conference as they share their work across the PYP transdisciplinary themes and subject areas!
In addition to our portfolio conferences that day, our 5th graders are sharing the culminating project of they PYP journey through the Exhibition. This year our students are exploring the ways that creative expression inspires people to take action! Beginning in March students are shepherded through the project by a Spicewood staff mentor who has helped them not only plan for their project, but also reflect on their learning throughout the program. Each week they meet and look at the impact of the essential elements of the PYP: skills, knowledge, concepts, attitudes and action. In small groups students discuss how their learning has been impacted by exploring these things and what it means for their perspectives as learners and how they view the world. These conversations are a way to consolidate the aspects of a PYP education, while simultaneously completing a project that exemplifies all the elements of the program.
Reflecting on experiences encourages insight and transfers understanding to new contexts that go beyond the classroom. Students solidify growth when they are asked to control their learning, and we believe this process is enhance by exploring and discussing this learning with others. This is also part of inquiry, we learn and expand on that learning by the presence, ideas, thoughts, and questions of other learners. For students at Spicewood this continues through to the reflection process and is shared at our Spring conferences!
We hope you join us on May 6th to watch our students synthesize their year and joyfully share it with those around them!
Monday, February 23, 2015 4 comments

Visible Thinking Routines Bring Inquiry Alive

Collaborative learning is a practice we engage in to promote inquiry. We believe that student talk leads to a more complex understanding of the concepts we are exploring. Students learn through verbalizing/recording their ideas and observations and from the ideas and observations of their peers. These thoughts interact to broaden understanding, build perspective, and give depth to our own thinking. One way to build these conversations into our classroom is to practice Visible Thinking Routines from Harvard's Project Zero. These routines promote thinking by building upon shared understandings through dialogue and questioning.
This week in 3rd grade students in each class engaged in a thinking routine called: See, Think, Wonder. This is a routine designed to engage students in observational skills and inferring in order to think about what we see on the surface and what we can conclude and wonder about as a result of those observations. 3rd grade launched their Sharing the Planet unit and are beginning to explore ecosystems and the ways organisms interact within them. They are looking to investigate the factors that impact communities within ecosystems. As a way to formatively assess what students know about ecosystems and its components, each teacher engaged in a version of See, Think, Wonder.
Students were given the opportunity to look at a variety of ecosystems and record and share what they saw and how this made them think about (draw conclusions) what their observations meant for the ecosystem (i.e. it looks like a drought, I wonder if this has impacted what grows or lives there). Students took turns discussing with their peers and drawing conclusions about their thinking.
Visible Thinking Routines are a powerful way to engage students with images and texts and go beyond the immediate and obvious information. Check out Project Zero's page to learn more!

Friday, February 6, 2015 0 comments

2nd Grade Students Express Themselves Through Poetry!

2nd graders have just wrapped up their How We Express Ourselves unit on poetry (Central idea: people express themselves through poetry). As a way to celebrate their expressions, they invited their families and the community to come hear them read them live, as well as share them on various forms of media.
While exploring ways to share their poems students considered the various forms of technology they could integrate in order to reach a wider audience and to express their creativity in different, and innovative ways.

Friday, January 16, 2015 0 comments

Embracing Diversity in the PYP

This year our No Place For Hate student group created a Diversity Tree to celebrate all the languages we currently speak, as well as the languages of our direct ancestors.  This is one way we embrace both our diversity, and the mother tongue languages of our teachers and students. In Spicewood's recently updated Language Policy we state:

     "Language is valued as central to developing critical thinking, and is considered essential for the cultivation of intercultural awareness and the development of internationally minded and responsible members of local, national, and global communities. We feel that students and parents who speak another language bring an added perspective to learning. We value their views and encourage them to share."

This is one way we are honoring the transdisciplinary theme of Who We Are while demonstrating the Learner Profile attributes of communicator, and inquirer and the attitudes of appreciation and respect.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 0 comments

Students Taking ACTION at Spicewood!

Spicewood is a No Place for Hate® school. No Place for Hate® helps to create and sustain inclusive school environments where all students feel valued and have the opportunity to succeed by promoting respect for individual difference while challenging bigotry and prejudice. No Place for Hate® is a school based initiative supported by the Anti Defamation League and began in Austin in 2004.

As an IB PYP school, Spicewood promotes the attributes of the IB Learner Profile in everything we do: our curriculum, classroom management, and in creating our school culture. We want to live the IB Mission Statement, so identifying with the goals of the No Place for Hate® initiative makes sense for us.

Because we believe in students taking action as a result of their inquiries, our No Place for Hate® student group is student lead, and student run. Students volunteer for the committee and then decide what needs to be done at Spicewood to promote empathy, compassion, respect and open-mindedness. They create an action plan and and then meet regularly to implement their self-selected strategies. Check out our students in action:

Monday, December 8, 2014 0 comments

How Do We Know: The Power of Reflective Learning

This is a question we ask students all the time. In math they work through a problem and we ask them to explain their reasoning and evaluate their solution. While reading we ask them to check their comprehension and find evidence in the texts to support their conclusions. In science they have to prove their hypothesis or conclusions using evidence and observations. We ask them to write persuasive papers trying to convince us to see something from their perspective. We ask them to cite their sources and ensure they are reliable. Through all of this we ask: how do you know? This is one of the PYP Key Concepts, and also an IB Learner Profile attribute (reflective). Going this deep into what we do supports authentic learning. We want our students to be able to learn skills at school they will use as future students, and as human beings in the real world. Critical thinking skills are paramount to this task.  At Spicewood we strive to provide students with learning opportunities that ask them to go beyond knowing and engage in applying and reflecting.
One great example of this is our How the World Works unit in 5th grade. The central idea behind the unit is human and natural phenomena exist in our world and impact societies. This unit could very easily be a research project. Students choose a phenomena from a list and then research it. They could regurgitate where the phenomena is, the history behind it and they could maybe even list how it has impacted its society (if they could find someone's opinion on it). However we want kids to think. SO we ask our students to first determine criteria for phenomena. As a class they must decide what makes something phenomenal. There are no right or wrong thoughts, only justifications and evidence. Once they agree on the criteria they must choose a phenomena to explore and then see how it holds up to the criteria. Often this step sends them back to the drawing board because they have to revisit their thoughts on phenomena now that they have new knowledge. Through the whole process the criteria become fluid, as they learn new things and apply it to their definitions. They push boundaries, debate, and convince every step of the way. Some phenomena are "let in" in some classes, while others have determined them not to meet the expectations. We give students this control because they are reflecting and applying their knowledge because they have ownership This is not a top-down process that relies on facts and figures alone. Students have to infer, ask questions, explore and collaborate to get to the end of the process. They become experts on their phenomena and do it in a way they design. Think of the way you last learned something new. Was it because someone gave you a topic, asked you to create an outline and then write a report? Or did you dive into wide open research, discuss it with others, try some things, narrow your definitions and research some more? Learning, and inquiry, is an active process where students are engaged and in charge of answering: how do you know?
Check out some of our phenomena projects:

Monday, November 10, 2014 0 comments

2nd Grade Explores Sharing the Planet

In order to understand the central idea living things share natural resources, students in 2nd grade began by examining what natural resources are and how they are used.  They listed resources like air, water, soil, trees, minerals and plants. They then had to consider the ways in which people use those resources and list those. Next students explored what animals need to live. They were then able to see how many of the resources we use every day are also important for the survival of plants and animals around us. To evaluate these connects students were asked to choose an animal that is endangered and look at which resource is causing it to struggle and how and why that resources are being compromised. Through this research students connected this new knowledge in a web to show the interconnectedness of all living things and examine the responsibilities we all have to preserve these resources.

Students are seeing the value in taking responsibility for their actions and growing their idea of the world around them. This is building on their knowledge while also providing them an opportunity to explore the concepts of causation, connection, and responsibility through life and earth science, world geography, and economics. Check out their amazing webs!