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're creating—with words and materials—and planning for our trip to Mars...

Astronauts, sharks, peregrine falcons, stingrays, lions, wolves, and penguins are taking shape as Team Pluto (children 4-6) have used recyclable materials to prototype moveable characters. With a camera and a green screen, our Plutos brought their characters to an imaginative setting of their choice - the ocean, the forest, or Mars. Then, in groups of two or three, our Plutos filmed some of their characters’ adventures, with the challenge of using the green screen to capture their characters moving on film without their own hands being seen. Through this playful storytelling and filming, we explored powerful ideas including growing families, creating new connections, exploring new frontiers, changing identities, and getting lost.  

Soaring through the solar system in a variety of imaginative rockets, with danger and action, collaborative problem solving, humor and mystery, the science fiction tales are of Team Martian (children 6 and up) are emerging. With a wide range of characters, including a dog whose owner travels to Mars, a class of school children who tour the solar system, drone flying aliens, an astronaut stranded on Mars, and even some cameo appearances of real life people interested in settling on Mars, our Martians are creating short stories, all of which end with at least one of the characters deciding to permanently settle on Mars. From there, we will design a tale of how this collection of diverse individuals (not all of them human) settle on Mars and together build a new society. In the process, we will explore a range of questions and powerful ideas related to terraformation and our impact on the environment, individual identity, and the development of a group culture. As we engage in our writing and research, we have found that to get our ideas onto paper it will be very helpful to be able to type well, and we have been very serious about practicing our typing skills.

Seeking inspiration for our stories, while developing our reading skills, our Martians are each reading two books of their choice, one nonfiction that is related to the settlement of Mars and one science fiction. Guided to books at an appropriate reading level, we're developing reading skills while enjoying immersing ourselves in books. We will write up short reviews of each of the books we read, post in our blogs, which we have created using the platform Seesaw. We will also share our reflections and recommendations on the books we're reading with each other during our “book chats.”  In addition to reading individually, we are together reading the short story “Martian Mice” by Marianne J. Dyson in the collection The Callahan Kids: Tales of Life on Mars. As we read, we are highlighting the scientific facts that appear as a model for how to include scientific knowledge in our own science fiction stories.

Building the foundational skills needed for reach out to experts and potential mentors in the field, each of our Martians will interview at least one person involved in efforts to permanently settle Mars. In preparation, we're learning about people involved in the effort to settle Mars, choosing people interesting to us, determining possible ways to reach out to them, researching, preparing interview questions based on our research, and practicing interviewing techniques. Our Plutos are also developing interview and design skills. Each member of team Pluto interviewed a friend and, based on the interview, designed something for that friend, creating personalized gifts including trains, airplanes, and cats.

We’ve been physically active, exploring movement through tennis, yoga, and physics. We continue our physical education sessions with tennis drills, games and techniques. Martians and Plutos are all showing great improvement in ball control, while our Plutos exhibited a lot of team spirit cheering their peers as we were doing individual forehand drills. Our Plutos have also been excited about yoga thanks to CosmicKids videos, and we begin our afternoons with some gentle stretching movement after our more active movement in recess and physical education. We’ve not only been moving, but we’ve been learning about movement, exploring what can stop movement, what can make movement slower and what can make movement faster. Our Plutos spent time in the playground exploring movement, friction, and speed, using timers as a measurement tool. We ran in different places or climbed up the playground spiderweb we love, figuring out how much time it takes us to run and climb. Back at school, we continued our purposeful play, creating tracks that stop movement or speed up the movement of balls and other wheeled objects. Our newly developed skill with timers came in handy when we tried to predict if a ball would move faster on a straight path or a curved one.

Most of our Martians used the programming language Scratch to create an animation showing what happens when two objects collide. While the others programmed with Scratch, Lucas continued a personal project he began last year to learn the programming language Python by participating in an online class on Coursera. Our Martians additionally learned about vectors and scalars, and how we can use them to represent distance, participating in a challenge to find a hidden piece of chocolate using clues based on our knowledge of vectors and scalars. We finished our air pump rocket and launched successful launched them. Some of our rockets flew so far that they landed in the Hudson River. We reflected on our experiences making rockets and how friction, our engineering choices and external factors affect our launchings in blog posts in our new blogs using the platform seesaw. Our next step is to make a parachute.

Learning through doing, we’ve made sure to get in our reading, writing, and math through a variety of activities. Our Plutos focused this week on the sounds s, a, t and p, and are very excited by how our sound wall is growing with the daily pictures of each sound. We are identifying initial sounds in words, sounding out words, writing words, and as we are ready - reading and writing simple stories, each of us at our own level. In math, our Plutos have been practicing with the ideas of “more than”, “less than”, and “the same,” and are beginning to estimate with our eyes before counting. We applied our understandings to money, as we made our own sculptures, set prices for them, received some play money, sold our sculptures to each other, bought sculptures from each other, and began building our own art collection.  All our students, Plutos and Martians, started a well researched personalized, gifted and talented math program that provides games, lessons, a practice room and real world problems our students can use to develop their skills and advance in math.

Take a look at this video, showing the first day of School of Wonder, our after school program. Our next adventure (Oct 5), Spying on Humanity is co-designed with Melissa Cesarano, Columbia University Professor of Cognitive Science and Social-Emotional Learning. Participants will witness an unexpected scene (spoiler!) and will have to analyze and interrogate the people involved to complete the four boards of the Detective Room:  Observable Facts, Feelings, Needs, and Alternative Behaviors. Limited spaces are available and we have rolling admission. If interested email Miss Marta: m@m-wonders.com to sign up .

We’ve been having so much fun, and are looking forward to so much that lies ahead in the coming weeks!