A weekly update on the learning and creativity happening at Portfolio from Dr. Shira Leibowitz, Founding Director of Lower School and Nancy Otero, Founding Director of Research and Learning Design.

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How do ideas become a creation?
How do individuals become a team?
How does a traveler to Mars become a Martian?

These are questions we are exploring as we learn,
not only about Mars, but even more importantly,
about ourselves.

Stanford FabLearn Conference!

Our week ended as we wished our fellow students Tiana and Lucas well as they, along with Shira and Nancy, set off for Stanford to present at the national Fablearn2017 conference. Together with Everett (a student with us last year who moved to San Francisco), and Tiana’s, Lucas’, and Everett’s moms (Jackie, Elena, and Mandisa), we shared Portfolio’s approach and sample projects to an extremely appreciative and engaged audience. Our students did amazingly well!

Contact with Marianne J. Dyson!

Congratulations also to another of our students, Anjali! She reached out to Marianne J.Dyson, a children's author, science fiction writer, technical editor, and former NASA flight controller with a degree in physics. Just like us, Marianne J. Dyson creatively combines science fiction and physics! After reading one of Marianne J. Dyson’s  books and one of her short stories, Anjali was so inspired that she wrote a cameo appearance from Marianne J. Dyson into her science fiction story. She then reached out to Marianne J. Dyson to request an interview, and is now enjoying talking to a female writer/physicist interested in what it would be like to live on Mars!

It's Science Fiction meets Physics!

Meanwhile, here at Portfolio, we too are creatively combining science fiction and physics as our journey to Mars is taking shape. At the end of last week we each had a science fiction story (whether written or oral depending on our age and writing skill), in which at least one character ends up on Mars. Now, we have a plan. We divided into three mixed age creative teams, based on the characters we have created.

We’ve got astronauts! We’ve got kids! We’ve got adventurers!  And all of us are going to meet on Mars. What will happen when they do? We’re not yet sure; but in the process we hope to learn about what it takes for individuals to become a team, not only on Mars but right here at Portfolio.

Storyboarding and planning our visual stories

Each creative team storyboarded a sequence of three action packed scenes, telling the story of how we got to Mars. To prepare to storyboard, we had some inspiration. With our artist-in-residence, Portfolio co-founder Doug, we watched a short video on how the Toy Story creative team used a storyboard to plan the movie. We observed photos of Toy Story storyboard scenes next to the actual scenes filmed, noticing that they were similar, but not exactly the same. We discussed how a plan changes but still gives us direction and is necessary for creative work. We then prepared for filming, working on our stop animation skills with Doug, and illustrating, laser cutting, and decorating characters and props for our scenes.

Computational Thinking and the movement of objects

We’ve been making great progress in our computational thinking skills and knowledge of physics. Team Martian is working on Scratch animations that represent the movement of objects or characters in their science fiction stories and how the laws of gravity and Newtonian physics govern the motion of objects. Team Pluto flexed our computational thinking skills by reuniting a chicken with his friend by following a predetermined route through a maze, reinforcing the left, right, forwards and backwards commands.

What will a city on Mars look like? How will it function?

Learning at Portfolio is rarely linear, and although we are still working on our first sequence of scenes, we have begun planning the second sequence; in the process shifting from exploring how we might get to Mars to what it might be like to live on Mars. We began thinking about what a city on Mars will need and which of those needs are most interesting to us. We’re thinking about production of food, water, and oxygen; protection from radiation; building houses and a wide range of vehicles for transportation on the surface of Mars; communicating with Earth, growing plants and trees; raising animals; having fun; and finding a way to get back to Earth. We will now decide which of the many possibilities we will take a deeper dive into exploring as we continue to follow the adventures of our characters and their adventures on Mars.

Literacy and Math skills continue to get stronger every week

Lots of reading and math has been continuing for all of us, with Team Martian (mostly students 7 and up) going book shopping on Amazon for books interesting to them, at an appropriate reading level, diving into our books, and joining together for book chat in which we together share our ideas about our books. Our Team Pluto (mostly students age 5 and 6) are reading and writing more and more sounds, words, and sentences, and enjoying numerous read alouds. Our Plutos celebrated Diwali, the Hindu New Year Festival of Light, by  listening to the story of Rama and Sita. We then created our own lantern to light our way. It was a tricky project to cut, fold, stick and balance the amount of colours we wanted on our lanterns. We watched the Rise festival after to see how other paper lanterns can float up into the sky, and found 'it looks like a galaxy of lanterns.' In math, Team Pluto has been looking at positional language and direction, which will be linked to the trajectory that our rockets will take once they are fully prepared and ready for launch. Team Martian members continue to take a deep dive into math, personalized at their own level, working on our numeracy and algebraic thinking skills.

Personal projects continue to develop

During our personal projects we finished the prototype of the paper airplane motorized launcher, created a fidget spinner, explored motors and sensors with LEGO Wedoedo, laser cut a box, and move forward on designing a robotic dog that can move its body parts. Through these projects we gained skills in numerous areas including laser cutting, geometry, and coordinating rotation and movement.

Stay tuned for more Portfolio adventures!