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School Stories

Beyond Tinker Time: How Innovation Skills Elevate Lower School Learning

Throughout campus, the six innovation skills aren’t limited to Tinker Time or the Gates Invention and Innovation Program. Here’s how Lower School teachers say they are applying and reinforcing the skills in their everyday classroom activities to elevate student learning.
Empathy in the Spanish Classroom
By Kelly Viseur, Lower School Spanish Teacher
“Say sorry, and help them with your heart.” Lauren, a second grader, suggested this as a way to build community in her classroom. Most young children don’t understand the word empathy, but they innocently and innately do know how to use their hearts.  

In Spanish class, we teach second graders about Rigoberta Menchú, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Guatemala who endured many hardships in her young life. Many students are quite moved. They sit quietly and ponder the fateful events being read to them. Some react emotionally. Others raise their hands and ask insightful questions. Several students say, “That is so unfair!” or “I am so sad for her.”

As a teacher, it is obvious when students are stirred by poignant stories from Spanish-speaking countries. Their human hearts take over. Their facial expressions and body language shift as they feel the same sadness as Rigoberta. Empathy is a prominent leadership skill, and my hope is that we are creating global citizens at Graland who learn from history, and have a natural, compelling desire to help with their hearts. 

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Creative Thinking in the Library
By Abbie Digel, Librarian
Library lessons at Graland are designed using both the six innovation skills and the American Association of School Librarians Standards, frameworks that encourage us to push the boundaries of student thinking and to stretch their limitless imaginations. With all this access to information, we have a wonderful opportunity to incorporate creative thinking into our lessons. 

Creative thinking is critical to helping students develop research skills as they progress into middle school and beyond. Older grades are lead to think creatively and critically about the information they consume, how to evaluate websites, and to question the “facts” they find online. They also learn how to construct and develop deeper-level research questions before diving into a particular subject. We want our children to grow up with the skills to solve problems and think critically about the world around them, and library classes give students the chance to pursue further knowledge of the subjects that excite them. 

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Critical Thinking and Physical Education
By Bambi Mayo, Athletic Director

Critical thinking is the mark of great athletes, those with a keen sense of positioning and a deep understanding of the rules of the game. Developing that skill requires students to practice often, self-assess, and reflect on their learning. 

 It starts with a simple, foundational skill -- dodging. Students learn how to move in space, how and when to change speeds, and how to control their bodies. As they advance, they gain a greater understanding of rules and strategies and how to outmaneuver their opponent. Next, playing games helps students self-assess their performance and give them a better understanding of which strategies work. As coaches, we are able to give them feedback and help them make sense of the game. With physical education every day at Graland, Lower School students are provided the opportunity to learn, practice, and improve their manipulative skills as they develop the critical thinking and foundational skills to perform athletically.

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Grit in Kindergarten
By Liza Baker, Kindergarten Teacher

“Mrs. Baker, I can’t do it!” is a typical reaction when kindergartners encounter something challenging at the beginning of the year. So, how do I respond to that statement? “Well, that might be true right now, but if you don’t try, how are you going to get any better?” This highlights the importance of fostering something even greater than a specific math, literacy or writing skill—grit. 

In Middle K, we read children’s literature about making mistakes, a safe and organic way to have a conversation about failure. We point out our mistakes and then outwardly problem solve how to fix them or turn them into something else. Recently we visited the Monet exhibit and we noticed that in one of his works there was a splatter of pink. I asked the students what they thought it might be and why he added it. One student said, “I’m pretty sure it was a mistake that he turned into a ‘beautiful oops’ and it really worked because we’re all talking about it.”

My students are now regularly celebrating their failures, because they know that failing is not a permanent condition, it’s something that will help their brains make new pathways and actually result in them becoming stronger thinkers who show grit in the face of every challenge.

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Experimentation in Science
By Michelle Benge, Lower School Science Teacher

The idea of experimentation begins as soon as you step into the lower school science classroom when one of the first things you see is the sign on the wall: “Mistakes are proof that you are trying.” Experimentation is all about trying, failing, improving and trying again. 

Recently, third-grade scientists worked in teams to engineer an avalanche protection system using materials such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, string, straws and lots of tape to build catches and barriers to stop avalanches. After they created their catches and barriers, we then tested them by placing them in a cardboard mountain and rolling down marbles or balls of clay. After witnessing the results of these tests students went back to their tables and tried again, each time improving upon their design. Through experimentation, scientists learn that failure is necessary to succeed and that one of the most important skills you can learn is to not give up. 

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Collaboration in PreK
By Lisa Palmer, PreK Teacher

When young children attend school, it is one of their first opportunities to collaborate with many other people. It begins by walking into a space that has a finite number of resources for a large number of children. What happens when there are only so many blocks to go around? 

The skills that are required to navigate such situations are the very same skills that help children develop the ability to collaborate, the action of working with someone to produce or create something. In an early childhood classroom, children naturally learn these skills through play with other children. When children work together to build a structure, they can create something larger and more elaborate than what they could achieve alone. Collaborating with peers involves sharing creativity and imagination to develop a story around that structure. 

Communication, cooperation and self-regulation are important to successful relationships, and collaboration is a way children learn to respect others and control their emotions.
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Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.