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Kindergarten Science

Experiential Learning in the Lower School

Nancy Keen Palmer '03
In ways both big and small, our Lower School teachers are bringing curricular content to life through immersive activities that offer students the opportunity to go far beyond retention of facts and figures and to fully absorb the knowledge that they set out to discover. The following examples illustrate this approach and represent only the tip of the iceberg that is experiential learning at Ensworth.

Kindergarten: Comparison of Solids in Science

With two visits to science every seven-day rotation, kindergarten is allowed ample time to conduct ongoing experiments with Mr. Bond. They begin with the comparison of states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas) and expand upon the inquiry into properties of solids through a 10-unit experiment. Each class period, students are given two solids to compare based on the properties of color, shape, density, magnetic attraction, etc. They use balancing weights, buckets of water, magnets, and more to deduce not only that two objects are different, but identify what makes them so. They collaborate with a partner and scribe their observations on a fact sheet in an interactive activity that gently introduces them to the scientific process. Many “Eureka, I’ve got it!” moments are experienced in this unit, and kindergarteners are well on their way to more fully understanding the complexities of scientific content!

Grade 1: Lovely and World Languages

In order to love others, we must truly love ourselves. Only when we recognize and celebrate what makes us unique can we come to the feel the same about someone else. First grade students dove into this powerful concept in their World Language classrooms this year. They read the book Lovely by Jess Hong in both Chinese and Spanish, discussed the concept of loving ourselves and celebrating differences, and then wrote a script. Each child was given the opportunity to write and illustrate a characteristic they loved about themselves, culminating in a celebratory video that paints a beautiful picture of the individual qualities that represent the Class of 2030. The impact of such a powerful concept touched the hearts and minds of each and every one of our Lower/Middle School students, as the theme of World Language Week was chosen to be Lovely: Finding the Lovely in Ourselves and Others.

Grade 2: Student-Driven Pioneer Day

Pioneer Day has been part of the second grade experience at Ensworth for many years. What will always be an iconic educational tradition has evolved into a truly immersive approach to historical study. Students engage in an in-depth exploration of how life was experienced before technology and modern conveniences, learning step-by-step as they follow the journey of the early settlers making their way across the Oregon Trail. Along the way, students make comparative charts of life then vs. now, assume fictional personas, and log daily journal entries as if they were on the trail themselves (and play the classic computer game that we all fondly remember). While they haven’t churned butter with marbles and mason jars of late, it is because the teachers have empowered the students to choose their own cultural project from the time period and become the leaders in sharing such with their peers. Mrs. Moeller sums it up best, “As our second graders move on through their lives, they may not remember what state Chimney Rock was in, or what the names of the forts along the Oregon Trail were, but they will know that they can learn and teach a skill and that, though making something oneself can be tricky, with the help of a friend and some tenacity, there is usually a way to get it done!”

Grade 3: Serving up Empathy through Service

While second grade students connect to the experiences of the past, third grade engages with the challenges of the present as they learn about homelessness and food insecurity through their partnership with Bridge Ministries. They study the issue and available services and are empowered to choose their own creative approach when it comes to promoting their service learning project. The goal is to collect items for the Bridge’s Holiday Toy Drive, and they are asked specifically to collect on behalf of eight- and nine-year-old peers. Not only do students relish the opportunity to collect gifts, but they also gain an empathetic understanding of those they serve in realizing they, too, are third graders with similar wishes. It is up to each and every student to choose how they’d like to advocate for the toy drive—some make posters, others make collaborative educational videos, and all of them study the nonprofit, the issue they address, and the solution they propose. The act of receiving generosity and the joy it brings in sharing it with others will certainly not be lost on our future fourth grade students.

Grade 4: Future City of Ensworth

In light of the capital campaign activity on campus and inspired by Bodys Isek Kingelez’s City of Dreams exhibit featuring sculptures made of recycled materials, Lower School Art Teacher Kathryn Swords and her fourth grade students made their own Future City of Ensworth art project. This project inspired such enthusiasm that students on their own volition would arrive early to school to continue their work. Solo structures coalesced to create a collaborative city as one student’s Tiger Scraper connected to another’s Futuristic Weather Station, which resided next to the interactive playground. Kingelez’s motivation was to construct his own vision of a harmonious home, city, and planet, and used the medium of recycled materials, as did our students. They studied his work, referenced scholarly materials, and had group conversations on what their ideal vision of school would contain. They chose whether to work individually or as a pair and sourced everything from feathers, to cardboard, to popsicle sticks to bring their buildings to life. Given the freedom to answer for themselves what this Future City of Ensworth would be composed of, they discovered that individual contributions to a collective made a most vibrant vision of what is to come, tiger-shaped buildings and a dolphin-shaped aquarium included.

Grade 5: Interdisciplinary Lewis & Clark

The study of Lewis & Clark and their western exploration has grown into an interdisciplinary study that is a hallmark of the fifth grade experience. While rooted in Humanities, the analysis stretches into activities in unexpected places—from math class to class trips and beyond. Students do not merely read history books to learn about the historic expedition; they examine archived journal entries and consistently evaluate the pros and cons of Lewis’ decisions at key points of the journey. They also study the history of the boats and forts available in the time period and build model structures accordingly. For a creative spin while studying line graphs with Mrs. Dale, they plot the winter temperatures of the Northern Plains in 1805. Spoiler alert: there’s quite the negative slope! They have a leg up on Lewis & Clark but still experience a taste of the excitement when they try their hand at orienteering, with the use of a compass and a topographic map, while enjoying time at Land Between the Lakes. New horizons are explored while history brings to life an immersive educational experience for each and every fifth grade student.
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