Exploring Education at WIS
This piece is written by Head of School, Clayton Lewis.
Think about a time you were asked to pick a complicated topic, delve into seemingly endless sources of information, and organize a presentation, complete with visual aids, suitable for audiences both significantly younger and older than you. And by the way…were you expected to research and share the information in two languages?
I'm willing to bet a majority of you have never been required to complete such a task, and if so, you were probably not 10 or 11 years old at the time. Yet every WIS 5th grader is expected to take on this challenge as part of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) Exhibition, the culmination of the PYP inquiry-based curriculum that provides the framework for all of our Primary School students.
This year, our 5th graders were asked to select topics relevant to the transdisciplinary theme Sharing the Planet and were divided into small groups based on their areas of interest. Collectively, they researched the following topics: de-extinction, animal treatment, gender equality, women's rights, LGBTQ issues, child labor, artificial intelligence, water pollution, climate change, global warming, natural disasters, water management, deforestation, and social media. What a range!
Over the course of two months, our students: figured out the questions they wanted to answer; conducted research, including interviews with experts near and far; assimilated their findings; composed a presentation; and reflected on the process throughout. The Exhibition framework also required them to take action related to the issue, but provided the flexibility to interpret what "action" meant, whether it was raising awareness or funds, starting a petition, volunteering, or making lifestyle changes.
Last week, our 5th graders delivered on Exhibition expectations with considerable aplomb. They shared information with their Primary School peers and with parents, friends, mentors, and faculty. They overcame nerves and fielded (sometimes tough) questions. From the school's perspective they demonstrated qualities and skills a WIS education fosters: bilingualism, global awareness, collaboration, communication, inquiry, research.
And from their own perspective? I thought you would enjoy this sampling of reflections from the students:
- I also learned that everyone has to pull their weight otherwise the whole thing collapses.
- Exhibition was the best experience of my life. It was fun and challenging.
- I learned that sometimes it is hard to work in a group. All in all we worked well together but sometimes we had some disputes.
- I have also learned that when it comes down to the last two weeks, everything including the tiniest detail becomes stressful.
- This project has been so great for me. I have learned so much.
- In this week I caught up on my paragraphs; trust me on the outside I was chill, but on the inside I was in full panic mode…
- The way it was bilingual made you synthesize in both languages. It was really amazing.
- I like this project a lot because I am excited to present to the school community, also because it reminds me about how lucky I am to be bilingual and able to present a big project in two languages, and because action taking is so much fun and so important and I get to document it.
Once a month, at the beginning of the day, all Grade 6 students board the yellow WIS buses in front of the Middle School. Armed with activity folders and library books, they are off to meet their Reading Buddies, students in Grades 1 & 2 at Marie Reed Elementary School, a multilingual DC public school close to the WIS campus. Each WIS student is paired up with one or two Marie Reed students, who become their “buddies” for the entire year. The goal of the Reading Buddies program is to give the younger students mentors who can help them develop their reading skills in a relaxed setting, while giving the WIS students an opportunity to practice leadership skills and perform community service.
Grade 6 Coordinator, Kristin White, started the Reading Buddies program with Marie Reed three years ago. She explains, “we wanted to have a year-long community service aspect as part of our Advisory program. We looked in-house to see if something like this could work with our Primary School, but our schedules just didn’t line up well. I reached out to a few DC Public Schools that are close to WIS, and the principal at Marie Reed responded to me right away.” Coincidentally, Marie Reed also offers dual-language instruction in Spanish, which made the partnership even more significant. The WIS Spanish language students are paired with Spanish learners, while the WIS French language students are paired with English learners. Typically, the Spanish groups will read books written exclusively in Spanish, but English books make the rounds as well.
Kristin explains, “I’ll organize the lessons for the kids to do with their buddies. We have a bunch of books that we’ve borrowed from the DC Public Libraries for the entire year. They have been WONDERFUL in letting us check out both English and Spanish books. We just rotate them around so the kids don’t have the same books each time, and then they’ll do some sort of activity. Some of the activities are thinking routines; it’s really cute to watch our sixth graders do a See, Think, Wonder with them—they literally will say it the exact same way a teacher will say it to them. But we’ll do different types of activities that are meant to help the kids, not only with reading, but also with comprehension. For example, this week we have I Can Listen to Stories: they have to write the title of the book, decide if it was good or bad, and draw a picture.” Kristin also hopes to get to the point where the WIS students are designing a few activities of their own.
At the beginning of each year, there is some understandable apprehension as the buddies meet for the first time. Sometimes, the Grade 6 students come back and say, “my buddy doesn’t like me,” or, “my buddy won’t talk to me.” Kristin and the other Grade 6 advisors ask their students to think about what it was like for them, when they were younger, to work with someone older, who they didn’t know. By the third meeting, though, the advisors begin to see a more positive relationship being built. Often hugs are shared between buddies at the end of their time together, or the WIS students report “my buddy really opened up to me today!” Of course, this partnership requires that the Grade 6 students step up and act more like adults, which is not always easy. Often, they’ll return from their visit to Marie Reed and remark, “This is HARD. Teaching is HARD. Our buddies are crawling all over the floor. We don’t know how to get them to pay attention.” Kristin adds, “then they start to relate to how sometimes this is what class is like for us as teachers, and they can reflect on that.” However, our WIS students also reflect on the benefits of this program for their younger buddies. Eliana noted, “my buddy used to be really shy about reading, but I think she’s a little more confident now, which makes me really happy to see that she’s improved. She’s become a stronger reader.” Sophia added, “my buddy would get distracted a lot when we first started, and I see that he focuses a lot more now.”
Kristin also added, “One thing that I like about this service project not being connected to WIS is that the kids see a completely different world. And for some of our students, it’s good to see something different. We’ve even talked about the differences between our Primary School and Marie Reed Elementary School. It’s good for the WIS students to see the different things, but also see what they have in common: we’re all students, we all live here in DC, we all actually could be neighbors or we might not live too far apart from each other, we’re both learning another language.” Our WIS students have also recognized that their younger buddies do not have all the same advantages that they do. For example, Chloe said, “I like to have new experiences with my buddy. Because he hasn’t been on a plane, I like to read him books about planes, and make him paper airplanes.”
Additionally, when the WIS students learned that the Marie Reed PTA was trying to raise money to create an after school science program for the first and second graders, because there was no set after school programs for them, the WIS students held a bake sale and raised $115 to donate to the after school program Kickstarter. Kristin explains, “Our kids loved it. They loved doing the bake sale, but they also recognized that it’s nice that they get to give back.”
At the end of the year, the buddies will have a celebration of the program. They usually write cards to each other, and each Marie Reed student will get a picture with his or her buddy. Kristin is hopeful that the partnership can continue in the years to come, since the benefits to all involved are so clear.
This Unit of Inquiry falls under the IB PYP transdisciplinary theme How We Organize Ourselves, so the students in each of the four sections then had to figure out how to organize each of their books and artifacts in a way that made sense. Primary School Librarian, Sue Anderson, explained, “when you go into a museum, it’s organized; it has an order to it. So the students figured out that this was the way they wanted to organize the artifacts, and each section decided on the different categories.” For example, section 2A organized The Day the Crayons Came Home under the “Celebrations” category, while 2C placed the same book under the “Everyday Things” category. Likewise, 2B placed Where the Wild Things Are under “Magical Stories,” and 2C placed it under “Transportation.”
After organizing the titles, the students then set about explaining their artifacts in either French or Spanish. They used the electronic portfolio platform SeeSaw to record these explanations, and also to take pictures of their artifacts. Sue then helped them print out QR codes to put next to their artifacts in the museum. Any visitor with a QR reader can scan the code and be linked to the student’s SeeSaw account, where they will see the picture and hear the explanation. For example, one student brought in a black witch’s hat to represent The Wizard of Oz. Scanning the QR code links the viewer to a page with a picture of the hat and a recording in Spanish, explaining why the hat relates to The Wizard of Oz.
This culminating project touched on many subjects: photography (how to properly center an object in a photo, how to pick a good background, etc.); languages (French or Spanish to record descriptions); problem solving (how to organize different titles); technology (using iPads and SeeSaw); and, of course, reading (knowing how to summarize a story and make connections), making this project truly transdisciplinary.
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