Friday, September 28, 2018

Looking for Facts in All the Right Places!

Real world, authentic, project-based learning is Seabury Middle School's modus operandi, and students had a chance this week to get their hands dirty with research on their projects. The City is our Classroom here at Seabury, and what better way to put this into action than by taking the very short walk to Tacoma Public Library's main branch, just up the hill from our campus. With our focus on Washington State and Tacoma history this year, the Library's Northwest room was a perfect place to do some research.

Students were given a tour of the room and all it had to offer, with historical maps of the state and of Tacoma and books on the local flora, fauna, economy, weather, and more.

In this world of instant information available online, taking the time to slow down and research "the old fashioned way" is something that modern students often need to learn how to do. We learned that sometimes, looking for information in a book or on a piece of microfiche is the only way to find that information. Students came armed with their research questions, some paper and pencils, and a good dose of patience, but left with a solid basis on how to do traditional library research.

Some were visibly excited when they found a newspaper article or book that gave them exactly the information they were hoping to find. Others calmly scrolled through information without success. But all students left understanding that solid research takes time and patience and that with perseverance, they would find that one source that they needed!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

And They're Off. . . The Washington State Inquiry Project Has Commenced

This week, the students have been hard at work planning their inquiry based projects about
Washington State.

Based on the whole group’s question storming last week, students were interested in learning more
about Native American history, the economy of Washington, arts and culture in Washington, the flora
and fauna of Washington, the weather in Washington, and diversity in Washington.

Each group reviewed the questions the whole middle school wrote for their group’s category and
then discussed their interests and questions. Because of these conversations, the students were able
to craft meaningful initial questions that reflected their shared curiosity. Students revisited these
questions after some initial research to make sure they still accurately reflected the shared interests
of the group. They then crafted central questions for their project proposals (see chart below).

Central Questions for Each Group:

Native American history
Why are there so many Native American tribes in Washington ?
Economy of Washington
What are the differences between urban and rural economies in
Washington state?
Arts and Culture in Washington
How has the world been influenced by Washington’s arts and
culture, specifically physical art, music, and fashion?
Flora and Fauna of Washington
What prehistoric animals have lived in Washington state and
how have they evolved/did they evolve?
Weather in Washington
What causes the weather patterns in Washington?
Diversity in Washington
How does diversity tie in to Washington's food culture?

Why Inquiry?
By basing students’ work around their own questions, they are more likely to be interested and
engaged in their learning. This authentic, intuitive way to learn goes back to Dewey and Rousseau.
When people wonder, they are more likely to learn. Because Seabury middle schoolers have the
chance to ask questions and seek answers in a supported environment, they are more likely to be
the kinds of adults who wonder about the world and then seek knowledge.
Students are also practicing seeking knowledge in collaboration with others and then sharing that
knowledge to the world outside of Seabury. This week’s planning sets the stage for becoming lifelong
learners. Think about how often adults ask questions, plan work, collaborate with colleagues, set their
own internal due dates, and assess the need for further work. Through inquiry-based group projects,
students have the opportunity to practice the twenty-first century skills we know they will need.

What’s next?
The groups also created objectives and calendars for their projects, working on flexibility and
organization skills. They will receive feedback on their project proposals from their science, English,
and social studies teachers this coming week. As the projects are interdisciplinary, the students must
include aspects of each of these subjects in their work. Teachers will check to make sure students
are acquiring necessary skills over the course of the project. Students also set and are working
toward individual goals that teachers will monitor over the course of the project.

Seabury's middle school students have proposed creating a financial newspaper, an art gallery,
a totem pole of prehistoric animals, an academic presentation, a narrative recipe book, and an
academic essay. We are so excited to guide the students on their learning journeys as they
continue to hone and refine these projects.

The current date for the project showcase is Tuesday, October 30th. More details will be forthcoming.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

Learning to Use Public Transit

At Seabury Middle School the community is our classroom. As part of our efforts to create place-based education we strive to get kids out into the community of Tacoma, and being right downtown makes it easy to launch our kids into the city. We have them ask questions, find experts, and take part in projects that affect positive change in the community.

This week we allowed our students to plan a trip around the city of Tacoma and beyond using only public transportation. The students decided what places they wanted to visit, where to eat lunch, and the amount of time they would spend in each place.

Groups huddled around bus books and had to learn how to read the schedules and look at route maps. Some students chose to include multiple forms of mass transit, and some even left the city limits to travel as far as Vashon and Fir Crest.

Once they planned their routes we all went into the city to catch buses from downtown to distant parks and sights. We used a scavenger hunt to encourage them to visit as many different places as time would allow. Teachers went along for the ride, but students had to make decisions and overcome challenges.

What benefits do we expect from this type of activity?
  • Students are granted a sense of agency
  • They learn how to use a valuable community resource
  • It prepares them for future instances when they might need to travel in a small group to go on a field study or to ask an expert in Tacoma questions to further their knowledge

On the day following the trip we used public transit again to visit residents of Franke Toby Jones, a local retirement community and a community partner. We travel there monthly to visit with the elderly residents. This solidified our learning and allows us the flexibility to travel when we have need. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Off to an amazing start!!

Seabury Middle School is in full swing and we started off at a full gallop this year! The focus this year is on Washington State and Tacoma City history, with projects and inquiry driving the learning. Students visited Wright Park and practicing orienteering, visiting specific trees and monuments, gathering facts from historical plaques, and then using them in math problems. The answers helped them get to the next step in the journey until we all (thankfully!) reached the right ending point!

We also had the chance to visit Tacoma's historical conservatory and took a tour of the Champion Trees. Using the City as our Classroom is an integral part of inquiry based learning, where students ask questions first and research to answer them. Field Study Trips at Seabury are not meant to be a final "celebration" of a unit that has been finished, but the starting point to stimulate curiosity and the desire to know more. Rather than making a visit to a site and listening to a presentation, Seabury students come armed with questions they want answered!

Our visit to Wright Park and the Conservatory was just the first of many such amazing opportunities to learn by doing in the giant classroom called Tacoma. It's going to be an amazing year!!