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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We are learners! We are teachers! We are collaborative makers! Here are some highlights from last week...

Instructions and Sequences

Developing our maker culture, we spent a playful week speaking and listening; learning and teaching. Emphasizing “instructions and sequences”,  we embarked on an exploration of how makers use instructions to be creative - following instructions, modifying instructions, and writing our own instructions. In true Portfolio interdisciplinary style, we found sequence and instruction everywhere - in math, in computational thinking, in literacy, in history, and in our maker practice.

We introduced sequence in a concrete, engaging manner - with a puzzle. Together we followed step by step instructions to complete our puzzle, and then reflected on how the instructions helped us.

From there, we worked together to think about creating our own instructions. We considered criteria to help us write instructional guides for others to follow in order to correctly complete not only puzzles, but a range of creative designs and projects.

It was really interesting to hear the children explain these to each other and work out which pieces were missing! Together we created a criteria of steps that we need to follow so that puzzles and designs are completed correctly.
— TRACY DAY, Teacher

Sequence and instruction then popped up everywhere!


In math, we explored sequence through a range of interactive games, personalized for students at different math levels. Skills we developed and practiced included counting in sequence, sequencing the weeks and months of the year, identifying and explaining patterns in math, and analyzing patterns and relationships in math. In computational thinking, we explored how a sequence is used in computer programming, applying our understanding of sequencing to program geometric shapes.


In literacy, we sequenced events in stories. We then, totally independently, created our own instructional guides, following a step by step sequence others could follow, either in words or in pictures. Guides we created include: how to program with Python, how to create a cylinder from connectors, how to build a truck with mobilo truck, and how to make a fidget spinner.


From sequence and instruction in our own lives, we shifted to learning how humans throughout history have discovered patterns and have created machines to predict the sequence of events. We learned about the Antikythera Mechanism, the oldest computer known to humans, created around the late second century BC in Greece, a type of orrery. For those not yet familiar, an orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system, used to represent the relative positions and motions of the celestial objects - the sun, the planets, and the moons. And, we will be building one! The Antikythera Mechanism is a gear system used to predict eclipses, star movements, and the seasons. Inspired by this amazing ancient invention, we applied our learning back to math, investigating the ways angles within circles are used in orreries to represent time.  

3D modeling and printing

Armed with newfound sequencing skills, and inspired by the achievements of those who designed the Antikythera Mechanism, we developed our fine motor and 3D printing skills, preparing to build our own orrery. We engaged in lots of activities to develop our fine motor skills, strengthening our hands, fingers, and arms with drills using tweezers and chopsticks to collect large and small objects. We had some fun competitions, seeing who could collect the trickiest items - no hands allowed! We dove into 3D printing, developing our skills with a range of design tools. Several children worked on the iPads with a 3D modeling app called Morphi. We drew 2d animals then converted them to 3D and prepared them for printing. We figured out the best sizes to print our creatures by using rulers and measuring out different sized boxes on paper. We decided that between 50 and 70 mm would be optimum!

Some of the children worked in Tinkercad, an online modeling application. We worked through several challenges putting shapes together, merging shapes, subtracting shapes, and learning how to create “holes” in our objects. We learned how to use the 3D printer to create sophisticated shapes and design our own badges. We received the badges we designed ourselves, representing our level of 3D printing skill, in our first ever badge ceremony of digital fabrication skills. Next week we will be using our new skills to finishing designing and 3D printing the many pieces of our orrery.

Presenting about ourselves

Central to Portfolio’s approach is not only developing as learners and creators, but also as people; and social emotional learning goals are embedded in our experiences. This week we focused on self-understanding, and speaking about ourselves, as well as on listening, and on persistence and facing frustration. To consider our own identities, we all prepared presentations about ourselves, explaining some of what is important and special to us and about us. To prepare we had to consider what we wanted to say, and what visuals we wanted to use in our presentations.

The magnificent sharing offered us opportunity not only to learn to present well, but also to listen and ask meaningful questions. We were able to share back things we learned about each other, compliment one another, ask questions to gain even more understanding of each other, and offer feedback to help each other further improve our presentation skills. We further considered ways to boldly face the inevitable frustration that arises as we strive to achieve our goals. Through books, videos, and conversation, we engaged in meaningful dialogue about what it feels like to experience frustration, and considered how we can persevere to achieve our personal and collaborative goals.

We read “Stevie and the Big Project” together and discussed how difficult things can be a source of frustration for us and that frustration is not a sign that we should give up. We saw how Stevie was able to persevere and learn from many attempts to get something right.

Personal Project Friday!

As always, our week ended with Personal Project Friday and time with our artists-in-residence. In preparation for the next steps in filming our movie, we worked with filmmakers Alex and Luke on our acting and camera skills, with a creative broadcast - the news from Mars! Some of our students continue work on their ambitious, whimsical laser cut pianos. We also explored squiggly structures made of cardboard, glue gun sculptures made of wood, and book design and writing.

And just because we love it, here's a collection of random moments of joy and fun: