March, 2015 / Issue 2
Dear UCLA Lab School Community,
This issue highlights some of the ways Teaching, Research and Outreach at our school work together to foster critical thinking and children's love of learning.
For our students, the heart of this work is the inquiry process, where they engage in foundational experiences, pose questions, gather and synthesize information, work collaboratively and share their thinking.
In EC II, for example, students have been learning about physics and the concept of “pushes and pulls.” Children learn about the concepts by exploring their playground as scientists. They look at objects that push and pull, such as their swings and the gate to the bridge. “How does it work? What makes it move? How does it go faster? Can it swing all the way around? How can it slow down? What makes it stop?”
As children share their questions and explain their thinking, they begin to create their hypotheses. They look at the wider world and discover pushes and pulls all around. To move children's thinking even further, the teachers introduce primary sources. They show images of pushes and pulls from the 1950s that are similar to what we might use today. Then they present another image, a pull toy made of stone that dates back to Ancient Egypt. Suddenly, the class is in amazement and explodes in constructive conversation. And the questions start up again!
We're happy to share more examples of this work here. Enjoy!
Acting Like a Molecule: Research Looks to Advance the Teaching of Science by Combining Play and Augmented Reality
by Noel Enyedy, UCLA Professor of Education and CONNECT Director of Research
Inside Community Hall, a group of 6- to 8-year-old students dance, jump, and walk in circles. Their teacher asks, “Really imagine you are a water particle at room temperature. How would you be moving? Fast or slow? Would you be close to other water particles or far away?”
Behind the children is a large screen. On it are yellow dots that follow the children wherever they go. As the children move, bonds form between the dots. The bonds are red, blue or white, depending on the children’s speed and distance from one another.
One child calls out: “We have to move slowly, we have to move slowly.” Another says, “And stay close, let’s hold hands.”
After some experimentation the children are able to move their bodies in a way that mimics water particles, and the screen shows all the dots connected by blue lines. Aha! They've “made themselves” into liquid water.
Innovation in Teaching Science
Here at UCLA Lab School, we're pioneering a new way to learn science. In a project funded by the National Science Foundation, my collaborators and I have been developing ways for students to learn through embodied, pretend play that is enhanced by a type of technology called “Augmented Reality.” The computer environment we have created combines students’ physical motion in real space with virtual objects and computer simulations.
In the unit just completed, students moved around in Community Hall, play-acting how they believe water would behave in a range of circumstances, such as a freezing cold day. They could see their activity projected in a computer simulation where an avatar of a water particle appeared on the video display. This avatar not only supported playful activity — in much the same way that putting on a costume in a dramatic play area might — it also included a representation of information necessary for the students’ inquiry into the states of matter, such as the temperature in the imagined space or the energy level of the individual particles.
The information represented in the large public display was intended to direct students’ attention toward key aspects of the content being studied. In particular, the goal for teachers and our research team was to help students understand that matter is made up of particles, and to begin exploring the relationship between energy, the motion of particles, and state change in ways suggested by the Next Generation Science Standards. As the students played, they made choices about how real particles might behave, and those choices were reflected in the projected simulation.
Promoting Depth of Understanding
Why engage in learning science in this way? Because it promotes the kind of conversations that lead to deep understanding. While the activities are fun and provide a developmentally appropriate way for young children to access powerful computer tools and simulations, the real pay-off is the types of conversations that the environment sparks between children and between teachers and children. The environment supports those conversations and helps them pursue the lines of inquiry in productive ways. And that leads to deep reflection and deep conceptual learning.
Directors of Library of Congress Consortium Visit for a Firsthand Look at Teaching with Primary Sources
by Shernice Lazare, Outreach Coordinator
What do professors from some of our country’s most esteemed colleges and universities and 5-year-olds at UCLA Lab School have in common? Their love and curiosity about primary sources.
On February 12, our school hosted a visit by the directors of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Consortium. The TPS Consortium consists of more than 30 prestigious museums and higher education organizations around the country that promote the use of primary sources in education. UCLA Lab School is the only elementary school among the leaders of the consortium, thanks to our partnership with the Cotsen Foundation for the Art of Teaching.
Observing Primary Sources in Action
During their visit, the TPS Consortium directors observed as teachers used primary sources to engage young children in discovery, constructing meaning and deepening understanding of concepts.
In Early Childhood, they observed Kristin Artim and Linnea Paul facilitate a class discussion while students looked at photographs of original weather instruments. Children noticed the various gauges and knobs on the “old-fashioned” equipment and predicted what they were used for. They also made strong connections to their current study of weather and temperature and used the photographs in front of them to deepen their understanding of how weather and temperature are measured.
In Sylvia Gentile’s Upper II class, the TPS Consortium members watched as the students took a virtual tour of Lascaux, a complex set of caves in Southern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. During this tour, students used many of their Habits of a Historian, requiring them to look at the cave paintings as scholars and make claims and use the evidence from the cave paintings to support those claims. Consortium members even joined the class in the space under the administration building to experience a simulated cave painting experience!
Students' Depth of Discussion
In both cases, our visitors noted the depth of discussion and the level of care and attention with which the teachers and students engaged with the primary sources.
Sam Wineburg, Stanford University professor and Director of the Stanford History Education Group, said he was impressed by "the amazing historical thinking going on at the school."
Vivian Awumey, TPS Program Manager, called the visit a highlight of the directors' meeting.
Teacher Professional Development
Consortium members also were able to see an example of in-house professional development for teachers when they observed our Primary Sources Maker Day, which coincided with their visit. During the Maker Days, our teachers are supported in researching and planning primary source lessons and gathering materials with the help of an expert team of teachers, all of whom have been trained at the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Institute, which happens each summer in Washington, D.C.
Voices and Artifacts from the Past Inspire Students and Presidents
by Laura Weishaupt, Communications Director
When President Obama made a speech last weekend at the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” Civil Rights March in Selma, Alabama, he was doing something that UCLA Lab School teachers and students are familiar with. He was using primary sources to connect past to present and promote critical thinking skills. The President drew on firsthand accounts by Congressional Representative John Lewis, a civil rights leader who risked his life in that 1965 march for social justice. And he cited the documents written at the founding of the United States — “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — reminding us that: “These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship...”
Primary sources such as an eyewitness account, an artifact, an old letter or a photograph “make the past real to students, jumpstarting active learning,” said Library Media Specialist Judith Kantor. And they're not just useful for teaching history. They help develop critical thinking skills as students “use a variety of texts to make observations and inferences backed with evidence. Students ask questions, wrestle with contradictions, consider points of view and do research – all of which leads to a deeper understanding,” she noted.
Some recent examples of teachers and students using primary sources combine history, art, literacy, music and more:
Children in Room 19 explored copies of illuminated manuscripts and used what they learned to make their own books. They made connections to storytelling, folktales, fables and fairy tales.
Caves of Lascaux
Studying early cave paintings has provided Upper II students a means to connect cell biology, art and social studies. The students looked at the drawings for clues about the lives and environment of early hominids, who left no written language but who made images that offer a intriguing representation of their world.
Intermediate students prepared the Beatles song Blackbird for their Spring Sing and looked at how the song’s lyrics were inspired by the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Upper I students explored African American slave songs in preparation for a social studies inquiry on the colonial era in American history.