Tri-mathletes Learn and Earn Medals

contestIf you’re not used to taking tests, much less competing against other students, an event like last week’s Tri-mathlon can be stressful. Just ask Azura, Tahsis and Chatalain, three Phoenix Rising students who took part in the annual competition hosted by the Math Learning Center, which pitted them against students from Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. Despite their nerves, all three performed well; Chatalain earned fourth place, Tahsis achieved three third place finishes and Azura came in first. “I learned that it was really fun to do it for the experience, and it wasn’t about the place you got,” says Chatalain.

The contest, which is in its fourth year and is held throughout the United States and Canada, consists of three parts: Magic Squares, the Counting Game, and Mental Math. They spent several weeks preparing for the types of questions they would be facing. “Once we got there, it was the same sheets but with different numbers,” says Azura.

Because of her high score, she is now eligible to move into the next level of competition, among 1700 other students. “We’re still waiting to hear if she’ll be invited to continue,” says her teacher Sophie Sykes. One thing Azura learned was to change her thinking patterns for the next competition. “I don’t have to be nervous,” she says. “I can just have fun.”

Tahsis came to a similar conclusion. “I learned that math competitions are pretty fun, especially when you’re competing with a lot of people,” he says. “Next time, I’ll think ‘I’m ready, it doesn’t matter what the problems are, I’m going to get them all right.’” Congratulations to our three contestants!

Cloudy With a Chance of Courage

dekaAccording to the weatherman, hot apple cider started falling out of the sky last week, followed by hot dogs and french fries. Fortunately no one was injured and eventually everyone ate very well. It might help to know that the weatherman in this case was Avignon, a 4th grader, who was making a presentation to his class on weather in Cape Town, South Africa, followed by an imaginary ‘weather report’. The biggest thing he learned? “I improved my courage,” he says. Standing up in front of your peers can be a challenge at any age, as his classmates can attest.

The reports were part of a six-week integrated unit on “The Wacky World of Weather.” All of the third and fourth graders learned about weather patterns and how to spot a coming storm. While the information was helpful, for several, the greatest achievement was overcoming fear in order to deliver their presentations. “I was shaking,” says Helen, age eight. “This helped me if I ever do a presentation again.” “I was very, very nervous,” says Jake, also age eight. “I had to get over it.”

“An element of the weather unit that I didn’t anticipate was how much excitement and nervous energy would surround the weather presentations, ” says their teacher Megan Moskwa. “When the date approached and the idea of presenting in front of classmates while being videotaped became very real, I began to see kids who were reluctant to share their hard work.” Then, she saw a shift. They were still nervous, she explains, but, “I saw kids who were ready to present regardless of the fear they felt inside. They knew they could do it.”

Congratulations to all of the members of the 3rd and 4th grade class! View photos.

The Grinch Who Stole Recess

(Don’t Worry, He Doesn’t Live at Phoenix Rising)

recessThree times in ten days, a student we’ll call Henry stormed into the Phoenix Rising school office in tears of frustration. The culprit was 4-square, a seemingly harmless game that was not exactly bringing out the best in the group of twelve boys who played it every day at recess. Henry’s proposed solutions ranged from banning 4-square altogether to changing schools.

Four days later, a miracle occurred. The very same group of boys, including Henry, were laughing, joking and enjoying large amounts of silliness* – while playing four square. What happened? “We decided that anyone who argued was out,” explained one. “And we made lines again. We all agreed and then Kellon [a staff member] authorized it.”

This is just one example of the power of unstructured play. Children have the opportunity to work through conflicts and come up with solutions. In this case, adults were monitoring the situation, but they didn’t resolve it for the students – they supported the students in resolving it for themselves. If everything had been structured from the beginning, the opportunity might never have arisen.

In general, recess at Phoenix Rising is cheerful chaos; gleeful shrieks fill the air and everywhere you look children are up to something – alone, in pairs or in boisterous groups. Boys are busy designing their own games filled with elaborate and mystifying rules. Trios of girls chase each other around the yard, pretending to be various animals (dogs are a favorite). Students who have earned their ‘drivers license’ can check out bikes and ride on designated paths, while the monkey bars, swing sets, sandbox and A-frame structure all get a full workout. All the children are supervised but for the most part, they are left alone to enjoy periods of unstructured play.

Unfortunately, such scenes are increasingly rare.  “Play is under attack in our nation’s schools — and shrinking recess periods are only part of the problem,” says The Huffington Post’s Darrell Hammond. “Homework is increasing. Cities are building new schools without playgrounds. Safety concerns are prompting bans of tag, soccer, and even running on the schoolyard.” Just two weeks ago, the Richland School District in Washington State banned swing sets. The reason? Too many accidents. In Australia, a school recently banned unsupervised cartwheels and handstands for the same reason.

Yet free play – the chance for unstructured time with peers, nature and imagination – yields benefits that pediatricians and child psychologists say are crucial. Recess is a fundamental component of development and social interaction children ought to receive in school, says Catherine Ramstetter of the American Association of Pediatrics. It “offers a unique opportunity for children to experience a break from the academic demands of school as well as a forum for creative expression, social engagement and physical exertion.” “Studies have shown that children do a better job of processing information if they don’t move from one challenging task to the next, but rather, have a break in between,” says Dr. Robert Murray of Ohio State University.

At Phoenix Rising, recess is enough of a priority that every child from Pre-K through 6th grade has their own rain gear, rented by their parents for $25.00 a year. That way, regardless of weather they can go and jump in puddles, slide on the lawn or just enjoy being outside.  Every day, one hour of the 6.5 hour school day is devoted to recess, which also includes lunch and snack.  “It’s important to step out of the mindset that defines recess simply as “what you do when  you are not learning”, says Education Director Nick Gillon, “Rather, when students have the time, space, and opportunity for regular, unstructured, outdoor play they get a chance learn with their bodies, refresh their minds for new learning, and build friendships that are the foundations of social learning,”  Let’s hope the national move away from recess is  one trend that reverses itself so that 4- square doesn’t join the list of  banned activities.  View Photos

What a Day! Community Turns Out for Donor Appreciation Event

Donor Appreciation DayHugs, laughs and good will flowed freely last Saturday as nearly 140 people, including many children, poured onto the Phoenix Rising campus for Donor Appreciation Day. “It was great to see so many faces of people who support our efforts,” says Communication and Outreach Manager Heidi Smith, the event’s coordinator. “The whole day had a wonderful feeling of community that we will build on as we add new families and continue to expand.”

Donors and friends, one visiting all the way from Germany, got a chance to tour the campus and listen to several alumni talk about how their experience as students here continues to impact their lives today. “I’ve learned that I’m a very committed person,” Chambolion Fairley, class of 2012 told the crowd, “with a clear view of my goals. I strive for the things I want and I have Phoenix to thank for that because they gave us so many opportunities and different lessons that I found what I love and I found my strengths.”

For some, it was their first time setting foot on campus despite being donors. For others, it was an opportunity to learn in more depth about what they’ve been supporting. “I thought I knew what was going on here,” said one grandparent, “but after taking a tour, I see there’s so much more than I realized. It’s very impressive.” View Photos View Video

The Project These Students Didn’t Want to End

stewart marble runCheck out the art room shelf this week and you’ll see a group of seemingly unrelated structures. No two are alike; some have volcanoes and dinosaurs, others include ‘hospitals’ and one includes an incredibly small house especially built for a worm. But each one contains a marble run constructed out of paper plates and construction paper. This is what happens when an innovative art teacher integrates a theme like ‘Same and Different’ and makes it three dimensional for first and second grade students. “Jeannie really gives them free reign,” says teacher Melody Rae, who is exploring that theme through a six-week unit. “In a lot of classrooms, they get the supplies and then you’re told how to create it. You end up with the same cookie-cutter project. These marble runs are all completely different but they began with the same idea.”

Both Melody and Art teacher Jeannie Isaacs saw the project bring benefits for some children who might struggle in other areas. “I can see the confidence building in some of my students, especially the ones who maybe aren’t reading as well yet or haven’t found their footing with math, but they’ve really connected with this and excelled,” Melody says. “They have an opportunity to feel success.”

Three boys in particular “led the way for others to gain new abilities and confidence,” according to Jeannie. “Stewart and two of the other boys instinctively knew how to coordinate curves, slopes, and angles, as well as how to build up sides and make protective tunnels to keep fast-rolling marbles from flying off to all parts of the art room. It was beautiful to see their enthusiasm and careful focus become infectious over several sessions.” All three boys have been so inspired that they want to continue, even though the project is technically over. Jeannie has sent them home with the necessary supplies so that they can keep on designing. We look forward to seeing their future creations. Meanwhile, enjoy these pictures!