Village Schools
Isaiah Search used a tree identification guide to help his team chart and name the trees near the tennis court at Mills Lawn school on Monday. The second-grade class is mapping the campus to help the district figure out which trees are at risk for emerald ash borer disease. The students will present their maps and leaf rubbings at the MLS project-based learning Exhibition Night, Friday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the school. McKinney and Yellow Springs High School will host their PBL exhibition Thursday, May 22, 6 p.m., at the high school. (Photo by Lauren Heaton)

Isaiah Search used a tree identification guide to help his team chart and name the trees near the tennis court at Mills Lawn school on Monday. The second-grade class is mapping the campus to help the district figure out which trees are at risk for emerald ash borer disease. The students will present their maps and leaf rubbings at the MLS project-based learning Exhibition Night, Friday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the school. McKinney and Yellow Springs High School will host their PBL exhibition Thursday, May 22, 6 p.m., at the high school. (Photo by Lauren Heaton)

District Exhibition Nights— Students to demonstrate PBL

Second graders Isaiah Search, Zeke Naziri and Isaac Grushon held their clipboards and North American tree guides as they looked up at one of the biggest trees on the Mills Lawn campus this week.

“I think it’s an oak,” Naziri said.

“Yeah, it looks like it,” replied Grushon as he glanced through his pamphlet of leaf and bark drawings. “That’s tree number 130 on our map. Mark it down.”
The job of identifying and charting the location of all 213 trees on the school grounds is a piece of a larger project Ms. Hoover’s second-grade class cracked open last fall as they watched a large, healthy looking tree being cut down on the school’s front lawn.

“The kids were really upset about the tree being cut down — they couldn’t understand it because, they said, ‘the tree looks fine,’” teacher Heidi Hoover said this week. “It became this whole discussion and they asked all kinds of questions.”

The questions led to their discovery that many of the ash trees at their school were infested with emerald ash borer, or EAB as the students now call the pest that invades the otherwise healthy ash trees and eventually kills them. They were concerned and wanted to help, Hoover said. So they decided to make a map of all the trees at Mills Lawn and a guide about each tree for future students to use. And they have two weeks left to answer their basic question: “How can we make an informed decision about which trees are at risk for being infested with emerald ash borer?”

The project is just one of dozens of student-led projects that students in kindergarten through 12th grade will share with the community this week at two Exhibition Night events. McKinney and Yellow Springs High School will host their exhibition tonight, May 22, 6:30 p.m., at the high school. That night will also include Biology Night, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Mills Lawn will hold its event at that school on Friday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m.

The projects are the result of the district’s first year of implementing at least nine weeks of project-based learning in every classroom at every grade level, as a manifestation of the district’s 10-year strategic curricular shift. This year students have come up with a variety of questions or problems they were curious about and designed a variety of projects to get at some of the answers.

The object of one project, by graduating seniors Eizo Lang-Ezekiel and Morgan Beard, was to find out how high school students feel about PBL itself. The students designed a survey and created a video interviewing students and teachers for a qualitative explanation of their findings.

Still in a relatively nascent stage, PBL has gotten mixed reviews, according to Lang-Ezekiel in an interview this week. According to the survey taken by about 200 McKinney and YSHS students, many students are not happy with PBL because it takes longer and requires a lot of group work, where individuals have limited control of the finished product — and their grade. And the pair was surprised to learn through their survey that some teachers are afraid to criticize PBL. That issue and the results of the survey are topics Beard and Lang-Ezekiel plan to bring to the school board this summer.

Beard and Lang-Ezekiel also hope to use their project to improve a system both of them generally support. In his opinion, Beard believes in PBL’s focus on discovery learning, lasting learning, and teaching students how to “figure stuff out on your own,” he said. The group work does take longer, he said, but it also builds life skills that “everyone will need eventually.”

“PBL is not supremely popular at the moment, but it’s our opinion that it’s going to change over the coming years,” Beard said. Last year’s lava lamp project in chemistry took several weeks longer than usual, he said, but “the products were cool and the learning was more in depth because we were figuring out some of the principles on our own.”

Mills Lawn’s school-wide Project Peace also aims to have students take the lead in their own mediation and peace-making processes. To that end, the third-grade class has learned group drumming with musician in residence Darren Gilley and music teacher Jo Frannye Reichert. Together they live the D.R.U.M. code of “Discipline, Respect, and Unity through Music.” Student Malcolm Blunt feels he understands the code and its peace rhetoric.

“I think it’s a good experience for us to come together and work as one,” he said in an interview with Project Peace Coordinator Allison Paul.
And Jaleigh Smith felt happy just playing music.

“It’s fun to play instruments, and it’s fun to just hear the rhythm, and you feel, I don’t know what the word is but you feel good when it comes to the rhythm … I think it’s peace because of the sound of the music, and there’s rules that we’re trying to all fit in and we’re trying to make peace with the drum code and the drumming.”

Project Peace uses the principles of PBL to help students cultivate important life skills and take charge of their own school culture and team spirit, according to District Librarian Eli Hurwitz. The project began last year starting with learning communication skills and the language of peace, such as being an “upstander” instead of a “bystander” and the Bulldog Cheer, a short school spirit mantra that means “we’re in this together, we’re all part of a team,” Hurwitz said. Peace activities resumed again this spring, starting with Peace Week and International Day of Happiness, when the whole school community danced wildly to Pharrell’s popular song, “Happy.” The school’s art classes are repainting the playground kickball wall with a peace theme designed by the sixth graders. That class, the school’s peace modeling leaders, is also creating a guide to playground behavior for the whole student body to follow.

The district welcomes parents and community members to engage students during the Exhibition Night events this week to see how project-based learning is growing and to help shape what it will become. The community is a vital part of the PBL process, which the second-grade students took full advantage of by asking Yellow Springs Tree Committee members to come several times this spring to help them identify trees. With that more individualized help, students Tiger Collins, Alisha Cowen and Violet Babb have had fun on the lawn and have learned a lot about identifying trees.

Identifying trees wasn’t easy when they first started the project, Cowen said. But they learned the questions to ask, Collins said, such as, “Does the tree have single leaves or compound leaves? Is it coniferous or deciduous? Are the leaves opposite or alternate?” “Opposite, alternate, opposite, alternate!” they said in unison as they demonstrated the leaf structure with their hands.

And now, according to Babb, “When we look at it, we know when it’s an oak.”

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