Big Advancements for Our Littlest Learners

The Slice – November 2012: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

How Two Elementary Schools Are Using Imaginative Play, Games and Technology to Cultivate Student Learning with PiE Funds

They enter as kinders and exit as fifth graders. And in between those years, our elementary-aged kids are learning in increasingly innovative ways – many of which are made possible through PiE programs. Two Palo Alto schools, Addison and Barron Park, opened their doors and shared stories of some very novel programs taking root on their campuses.

A Shady Respite from Crowded Playgrounds

Addison Principal, Jocelyn Garcia-Thome, points outside the classrooms to one of her proudest accomplishments: the “Imagination Garden” in a corner of the playground. As one of the smallest campuses in Palo Alto, Addison faces the challenge of overcrowding every day. Fortunately it also has highly engaged parents, one of whom suggested turning a little-used outdoor area into a destination for kids seeking quiet play.
“Kinders and first-graders can find the playground scene over-stimulating,” Garcia-Thome said. “Now those kids can build forts and engage in imaginary play” in an area beneath a canopy of Cypress trees. An instructional aide supervises during noontime, welcoming new kids to the garden and restocking the space with all-natural materials that spark the imagination.

After School Math with Khan Academy

Addison is also maximizing learning through after-school lessons in the computer lab. The not-for-profit Khan Academy has already delivered over 194 million lessons to learners all over the world, and the Addison community has eagerly contributed 100 young learners of its own.

Students of all ages participate in this digital learning lab, exploring math and technology chosen by a PiE-funded instructional aide to integrate with the students’ core curriculum. “What’s great about this new program is that it benefits all levels of learners,” explains Garcia-Thome. “Kids who are struggling with the material get the extra support to make necessary gains. And kids who are advanced learners can keep the wheels in the brain engaged and moving forward. Everyone wins.”

Making Science and Language Learning Fun

Over at Barron Park, Principal Magdalena Fittoria enthusiastically itemizes the “biggest PiE dent” programs on her campus. The new Junior Museum programs bring science alive through over 100 hands-on lessons to her kinders through fifth graders. With 35% English learner students, Barron Park has also found great success with its “Let’s Play in Spanish” programs. Twice a week, kids sing and do puppet play in Spanish, giving their English learners a chance to shine in their native language while giving other students an engaging way to pick up a second (or third!) language.

Engaging Kids and Enhancing Teaching with Technology

Undoubtedly the most unique PiE benefit at Barron Park can be summed up in two words: Smita Kolhatkar. As the school’s full-time educational technology specialist, Kolhatkar works with each grade level to help teachers include technology — from SMART Boards to laptops or iPads — in their lessons to deepen understanding and support differentiated learning.

Barron Park is the only school to have such a staff member and Kolhatkar is excited to showcase her programs to families at an open house on November 13. Students will demo some of the applications they have built and games they have designed during the lunchtime “programming club.” Fourth graders will be making movies based on their Coloma trip and third graders will also use movies to showcase highlights of their Sun/Moon/Stars lessons with the Junior Museum staff. Fifth graders each have their own iPads to support lessons, encourage reading, and extend learning to at-home settings.

When not working with students, Kolhatkar provides support to Barron Park teachers, helping utilize devices for students needing extra language and reading support, setting up class blogs, and even in selecting which iPad apps are best suited to support a teacher’s curriculum. “It is one thing for me to think something is cool,” she said, “but it isn’t cool until a child tries it out and says so and gets better results, is more engaged, or is motivated to learn more.”