In 2015 our community participated in our first-ever project-based learning unit. Our staff developed the following question to guide the first project of the school:
- What makes a healthy community?
As Explorers worked to answer this question, they developed an understanding of the elements of healthy communities. Through this unit of study Explorers investigated recycling of materials, growing food and healthy cooking, the way water moves, and the importance of clean water. Explorers created a tippy tap to wash their hands outside in the garden. Finally, the unit culminated in a public exhibition where Explorers shared models of healthy communities creating a model East Nashville community, a model rainforest and a model futuristic society!
Also, in 2015 our founding class embarked on a journey of creative problem solving through our inventors and entrepreneurs unit. Through this unit students learned from inventors and entrepreneurs throughout history as well as in their communities. Explorers learned that when someone brings a solution to a problem, they are an inventor. Inventors practiced being curious, tinkering with ideas, and engaging in craftsmanship. Once they identified their problem and created an invention to solve it, they got to work marketing their plan. The final exhibition for this unit was a community panel of experts who participated in a “Shark Tank” process of feedback! We loved seeing our Explorers’ interpretation to the question:
- What is innovation and how does it help healthy communities thrive?
Explorers finished out their founding year by working to answer the following question:
- How can we recognize and contribute to the positive work of others in our community?
In order to answer this question they spent time learning from Pixar writer and director Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”). Explorers viewed Andrew’s Ted Talk and listened carefully to his steps for telling a great story including: make me care, take me with you, be intentional, let me like you, and, delight me. Once our Explorers understood the framework for a great story, they partnered with different non-profit organizations in our community. At Explore, we want to teach our Explorers to recognize the amazing work already happening in our city. In this unit Explorers interviewed non-profit organizations, completed a service project and then worked to tell the story of their partner organization. They also created art to sell to benefit the organizations. The project culminated with the Explorers showing the story they created and then selling their work at an art auction. This is a popular unit and one that has been returned to several times. Throughout this project Explores have learned about the following local and global organizations: Soles for Souls, Nashville Pittie, Second Harvest, The Martha O’Bryan Center, The Shine Project, Play Like a Girl, and Walk Bike Nashville.
Explore! Community School held its first Curricular Summit in order to inform our project-based learning for our second year on Tuesday, April 15, 2016. At the summit, staff and stakeholders collaborated to identify meaningful learning opportunities by gathering information on the problems, challenges, passions and opportunities of our local community. From this collaboration, three main threads of discussion emerged: Social Justice, Health and Nutrition, and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Inspired by each of these three threads, Explore staff developed the following question to guide the first unit of the year:
- How can I ensure access and opportunity for all in my community and world?
As Explorers have sought to answer this question, they developed an understanding of the diverse culture of Nashville. Between 2000 and 2012, Nashville’s foreign-born population grew by more than 86%, accounting for nearly 60% of Nashville’s population growth. New Americans now make up 12% of Nashville’s overall population (over 1 in 10 Nashvillians) and have played a key role in Nashville’s recent growth and prosperity while overcoming language and citizenship challenges.
Learning about the diversity of Nashville through the immigrant and refugee experience has helped build a foundation for Explorers to grapple with the idea that there are differences in the kinds of opportunities available for different populations. It has also provided a relevant context for understanding cultural differences with the goal of creating an inclusive community and increasing access and opportunity for all. Through this approach, we hope we have developed a greater understanding of the strength in diversity and built a foundation for honest, challenging, and productive conversations about discrimination, poverty, and opportunity for years to come.
Directly following this project Explorers returned their studies to the topic of health. They worked to answer the question:
- How can we promote the holistic health of those in our community?
This was a very special project because it evolved out of the school’s partnership with the Vanderbilt Community Health program. Explorers began the unit exploring Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, returning to their study of healthy eating, healthy sleep habits, and the importance of clean water. The events in Flint, Michigan inspired our Explorers to build solutions for conserving water and for keeping water clean. At this point in the unit our community participated in a poverty simulation lead by Safe Haven. We also worked together to provide a shared dinner to residents living at this shelter. Explorers then deepened their understanding of mindfulness and began working on the creation of their Human Body Book! These books were published and shared with the community at local book stores for authors’ readings and signing as a neighborhood book tour.
The 2016 – 2017 school year ended with an exploration that investigated culturally responsive teaching and learning. For this unit Explorers worked to answer the question “What is beauty?”. Through this exploration they examined both internal and external influences on our perception of beauty. Explorers read The Best Part of Me and self-identified the parts of their bodies that were their favorite. They wrote stories sharing why their classmates were beautiful from the inside out. They worked to discover an individual and collective message of beauty to share with our community in final works of art. This unit is a favorite of teachers and has been repeated several times. As the unit has evolved, the medium of art has too. Through this unit Explorers have experienced mural art, quilt making, mosaic art, printmaking, photography, environmental art, and music. The Explorers’ work has been featured as a stop on the East Side Art Stumble. It is our hope that this unit will help Explorers uncover the beauty in themselves, in others, and around them for years to come.
In our second curriculum summit, Explorers’ passion for learning about animals, and our community’s ambition for instruction rooted in civic education and government were among the topics that emerged. In addition to these ideas, a strong trend emerged for more individual expression of ideas and oratory commentary. At first these trends seemed diverse and difficult to contextualize in both problem and place. However, from these ideas we discussed a framework focused on the movement of people, places, and ideas. We decided that our next question would be the following:
- What is connectivity?
Connectivity is defined as the state or extent of being connected or interconnected. We wanted our Explorers to study the ways that animals, government and people are connected. Explorers studied national park systems and the migratory patterns of animals moving between these park systems. They studied Banff National Park and the work of conservationists there as they designed over and underpasses for animals. They wrote letters to road ecologists asking their questions and even received answers! Different grade levels studied different species and the effects humans are having on the movement of these species. Our exhibition focused the answers to these ideas through our Explore! Ted Talks. Explorers worked in groups to create PowerPoint slides in order to share their learning with families!
After this Exploration, our second grade (founding class) Explorers began to study the question:
This is a unit that will repeat in 2018-19, as it also is a high-interest topic for teachers and younger grade levels. We each have individuals who we identify as heroes. These heroes are personal and match with our highest priorities. With so many definitions of what it means to be a hero, the exploration was designed to allow Explorers to define a hero according to their own unique gifts and passions. During this unit Explorers learned about heroes in comic books and cartoons. They then learned about the heroic actions of children. Last they self-selected a problem they felt passionate about and developed a comic strip bringing their story to life. This unit danced between the lines of fantasy and reality with the goal of enticing our Explorers to believe in the unique and powerful gift they have to shape our world and our community.
Directly following this Exhibition Explorers began working to answer the question:
- How can we promote positive change for individuals, our community, and our world?
In this project Explorers studied the importance of clean water, growing trees and reducing the use of plastics in our daily life. They examined the effects that plastic has on our rivers and local watersheds and brainstormed ways to lessen their carbon footprints creating concrete poetry examples of their work. For their final project they collectively created a website to promote more sustainable ways of living and participated in community service project for Shelby Bottoms Park.
The first project of this academic year addressed the following questions:
- What does it mean for play to be inclusive? How can a playground foster love and acceptance within a diverse community?
We began our learning by investigating the importance of different types of play, learning more about how these opportunities allow children to grow physically and emotionally. Next, we examined the concept of inclusion, noticing the wide variety of differences that might make someone feel excluded, and recognizing the action we can take to prevent these exclusive practices. Building on this knowledge, Explorers dived into the concept of bullying, learning more about the concept of being an “upstander” to help ameliorate the harmful effects of these negative interactions. Explorers then connected this knowledge of inclusion to the idea of a playground: What playground structures and components foster inclusion? Selected students attended the National Recreation and Parks Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana to field-test equipment and learn from experts. Armed with more knowledge, Explorers constructed playground blueprints to construct an innovative, inclusive playground to be build on our new school site. Currently, environmental engineers and architects are working through these blueprints to provide feedback. Stay tuned on new developments and for final plans!