Community Conversation II: Building on Our Students' Innate Sense of Wonder

Community Conversation II: Building on Our Students' Innate Sense of Wonder


Our goal is to present to you all what our departments are working on and the wonders that are happening in our classrooms. As the metaphor of the iceberg implies, we want to show you what is under the surface.

To start with we will share some nuts and bolts of the program. These are the Curricular foundations that ground the newly published Academic Philosophy. Then through current classroom examples and student work, we will bring that philosophy to life.

Our Early Childhood Center is a Reggio Inspired provocation and inquiry-based model blended with the academics of kindergarten preparation.

Reggio Emilia is an educational philosophy based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the child through a self-guided curriculum. Children learn through their environment around them.

Although children are allowed to explore their environment, they still have a schedule where children participate in specific activities as a group sharpening fine motor skills, learning pre-reading and writing skills, and learn number and counting skills.



Ultimately, our writing program is designed to develop effective and nimble communicators. Using a writer’s workshop model, teachers teach specific skills in each lesson, work side-by-side with students through the process, and provide abundant feedback. Our students write daily, and often multiple times in a day. They create. They inform. They opine. They analyze, reflect, and ponder. Our curriculum emphasizes the process of writing -- generating ideas, drafting, revising, refining, and -- in the end -- publishing. Our writing program provides students with the means to share their understandings and ideas beyond the page. They write, then publish, present, and perform. After all, writing is the art of creating a window into the heart, the mind, and the human experience. To do that well, students need to write with clarity and with purpose.



Starting in ECC, Teachers instructs students to give them tools to build their decoding, reading and spelling skills.  From a very multisensory, structured introduction of letters and sounds in early grades to learning to be word detectives, armed with the etymology of bases and roots, prefixes, and suffixes, to unlock the meanings of new words in the higher grades.



Grammar is woven into the study of reading and writing but also taught explicitly with practice and the goal of application. The approach to grammar instruction is based on the idea of balance i.e. instruction is explicit and implicit. There is explanation and exploration as the learning is contextualized using authentic student language with sentence-level guidance in class and within the context of the student’s writing.



Math instruction builds on expertise in the development of number sense, in teaching multiple strategies, and in encouraging flexibility in our students.  Across the grades, we challenge them to master more than one approach for a given computation so that they can learn to identify the most efficient or appropriate strategy when facing unfamiliar problems.

Our department is currently working on identifying Essential Questions for each unit - What are the significant understandings that we want students to gain from this unit? Conveying those to students to help them focus their work for self-assessment and for differentiation.



Science instruction is grounded in the Next Generation Science Standards Science Standards. These standards consist of Crosscutting Concepts that help students explore connections across the four domains of science, including Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design. When these concepts, such as “cause and effect,” are made explicit for students, they can help students develop a coherent and scientifically-based view of the world around them. This redesign allows middle  school Science to spiral each year


Allowing for deeper conceptual understanding of systems and patterns, culminating in an emphasis on experimental design and colloquium in seventh and eighth grades.


Overall Academic Philosophy:

Our students’ innate sense of wonder is the foundation of learning at Woodland School. Teachers craft meaningful, multisensory learning experiences which enable creativity, ingenuity, and deep interdisciplinary connections.Students explore and develop complex understandings that engender a sense of self and purpose in the world.


Student-centered learning;

Student engagement drives learning, so our curriculum is oriented around our students’ needs, interests, and curiosities.

Explore lines of Inquiry:

As an example in math, students are asked to consider questions such as: Does changing the measuring tool change the result? Or How can understanding probability help me make better decisions?

Follow and engage students’ curiosities and interests:

An example in ECC developed around craters on the moon. During our space provocation the children were talking about “holes” on the moon. Teachers asked questions:

WHAT are those holes called? Craters

HOW are craters formed? Asteroids

WHAT are asteroids? A Rock

 How were the craters formed?

Students were offered materials as a provocation (magic model clay and rocks).

Students then collaborated and formed their conclusions on what the outcome of their projects would be.


Developing and pursuing passions:

The 8th grade Capstone is a project that epitomizes the Woodland School curriculum goals and the pinnacle of our student’s experiences.

This year’s class reflects that in their chosen topics. Several students are researching diseases that have impacted their lives i.e. Myelofibrosis and Polycythemia Vera and childhood Leukemia, and autism. Many are exploring issues that impact them and their peers directly:  internet etiquette, stress in teens, and dyslexia. Some are exploring the problems that impact their future i.e. the extinction of Bees, “Ugly” produce, flood zones, and the sustainability of Social Security. Others are looking to Improving the quality of life for others i.e. tackling poverty in Sub Saharan Africa, homelessness in San Francisco, and water desalination.


Hands-on, differentiated  learning experiences:

 Across disciplines, learning experiences are designed to allow kids to explore concretely, with their hands, be it creating models in history or science, or using counters or algebra tiles in math.  Open-ended design of projects provides natural differentiation, allowing kids to explore an idea as profoundly as their interest and ability will allow choice and creativity in how to demonstrate learning:

Through their Artifact Museum, 6th graders used the Archaeological methodology to study artifacts in Pakistan (Ancient India). They were asked to pick an artifact that could be found and were tasked with teaching a visiting audience (parents, peers, and teachers) about their artifact in the context of a docent-led tour through their artifact museum.

The goal was for students to demonstrate their understanding through the interpretation of archaeological artifacts and the unit was designed with those choices embedded. Students extend beyond the “teacher ask” when they are given options, and research shows that student choice increases intrinsic motivation, student effort, and task performance.


Understanding is deep and connected:

In Ms. Pierce’s Science class, she had students build three dimensional models of constellations to aid in their comprehension of the varying distances of the stars from Earth.  This activity is robust in helping convey the scale and depth of constellations relative to Earth and illustrates how students can answer the “why” in addition to the “how.”

Many moons ago I recall sitting in my seventh-grade classroom, textbook open, following along as my history teacher told the class why the document was so important, something about founding fathers. All that I learned was the what. We want our students to understand the why and the how. In this case, students engaged in a simulation of the Second Continental Congress. They had to consider multiple perspectives on the future of our country, set within the context of the American Revolution and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. In the end, they understood both how the declaration was agreed upon, and under what conditions. Furthermore, they now appreciate WHY the 2nd Continental Congress made certain decisions that have informed the history of our country.


Exploration fuels understanding, which is nuanced and profound:

The activities we have shared in conjunction  with opportunities for self assessment and reflection, and an emphasis on metacognition leads to…

Students developing a stronger “sense of self” and the ability to impact the world beyond them. Asi is shown in the following stewardship examples from ‘17-’18:

2nd Harvest Food Drive

St. Anthony’s Toiletries Drive

Movie Night & Trip to Nicaragua

Trip to Rethink Waste

Upcoming: Campus Care

Fun(d)raiser for Red Cross Disaster Relief

Upcoming: Blood Drive


In closing, we can simply fill their heads with information, or we can go beyond that to empower them to be compassionate stewards of the future.



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