Each day, our students in grades 1–4 attend classes in multiple subjects, from Math to Mandarin to Music. Most classes are taught by a Subject Expert Teacher (SET), devoted to teaching the subject they know and love best. The Connections class, however, is taught by each class's Learning Expert Teacher (LET), who is devoted to that class and their individual learning. In Connections, each LET can pull together topics from the different classes taught by SETs to help students see the bigger picture of what they are learning, and to introduce different problem solving challenges to inspire students. But what does this class look like in practice?
In the first grade Carbon class, LET Mr. Wagoner is teaching the students about inferences in Connections. On the board are two lists, titled "I See" and "I Think," next to a photograph of a city. The "I See" list contains items such as "people," "buildings," "not English language," and the "I Think" list is slowly growing.
"I think it's loud, because it's a city," says Henry.
"I think it's cold, because everyone is wearing coats," says Carolyn.
Once the lists are both full, Mr. Wagoner reveals that the photograph depicts the city of Seoul, South Korea. The Carbon class will be presenting information about South Korea at our upcoming International Day celebration, and they are so excited to have learned a little more about their chosen country through making inferences.
In the first grade Nitrogen class, Ms. Sutherlin has a more literary Connections lesson in mind. She begins by reading Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmans.
"Why do you think all these girls are living together?" she asks her class at the conclusion of the story.
"They're in a school!" says Ethan.
"Do you know what a boarding school is?" she replies. None of the students do, so she explains it to them, and continues to ask reading comprehension questions about the plot to make sure everyone understood the story and character motivations.
"Did you enjoy this story? You can say 'no' if that's the truth," she says to conclude this part of the lesson. Most of the students say "Yes!"
Next, Ms. Sutherlin projects the image of a Paul Gaugin self portrait onto the board.
"As a class, we are going to write a poem about this picture, but we can only use the words you write down. Take a minute to write down what you see in this picture and how it makes you feel, and we will use those words to create our poem together."
Once everyone has written what they want to say, Ms. Sutherlin collects the notes and adds all the words to the board. Together, the class forms a poem, with Ms. Sutherlin interjecting a couple times to explain poem punctuation to her class.
Over in second grade, Mr. Brown's Argon class is finishing up their unit on Native American cultures. Connections class begins with students sharing stories they have written in the style of the Native American legends they have been learning about. Then, Mr. Brown introduces today's project: making kachina dolls!
From the Hopi tribe tradition, kachina dolls are used to teach lessons about Hopi culture, and also act as messengers between us and the spirit world. The students have free rein to create dolls as they like, and some students make several before class is over!
Ms. Burton's second grade Neon class has been working hard on their International Day presentation about Costa Rica. In Connections, she gives her students access to a variety of art supplies and directs them to create different projects to represent the aspect of Costa Rican culture they are responsible for sharing.
At first, the students have many questions about what, specifically, they are supposed to make, but Ms. Burton wants them to problem solve and create their own vision. After a few minutes of deliberation within the topic groups, students begin to bring their version of Costa Rica to life. One group creates a national park, and another shapes a capitol building. A third group forms a plate of food using cotton and pipe cleaners to make rice and beans!
"I didn't want to show them too many pictures because then they'd just start mimicking that. I wanted them to use their creativity with this project," Ms. Burton says. Her trust in her students' visions pays off as a small paper and cardboard city rises in the center of the classroom.
In third grade, Ms. Castilla starts Connections this week by showing a picture of a ladybug and asking her students what their observations are. What do the students see? What do they know? From the list of observations, she asks the class if they have any follow-up questions. What don't they know yet? For example, "Can ladybugs be different colors? Where do ladybugs live?" The students are learning how to write a research report, and Ms. Castilla is showing them how to channel their curiosity into specific questions they can research.
Ms. Castilla asks students to write down what they know about the country they will be presenting at International Day. After a few minutes, they start raising their hands and saying they don't know much about them.
"PERFECT!" Ms. Castilla exclaims. "That's why we're doing our research project: to find out the answers to your questions!"
Over in fourth grade, Ms. Kim's class is finishing up their massive civilizations project. For the last fourteen weeks, they have been creating their own civilizations from scratch in Connections class, from maps, to culture, to languages, and more! It has been an incredible endeavor, and they are finally pulling the whole thing together into presentations they can share with fellow students.
Each Connections class varies in content but shares the same goal: to inspire students to think critically, to problem solve, to get creative, and to understand the bigger picture of what they're learning. The Learning Expert Teachers specialize in early childhood education, and this class showcases those strengths in tangible ways. Since they are with their students throughout the day, they are uniquely positioned to focus the Connections class they teach to reinforce and expand on what their students are learning elsewhere.
"Our Connections class is a highlight of our curriculum here," says Dr. Ashley Leyba, Head of School at BASIS Independent Fremont. "Students learn to work together on fun projects that broaden their understanding of topics covered in other classes. They create truly amazing things in Connections class!"
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