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STEAMing Up With Innovation and Discovery

May 19, 2022
By Alka Kumar

Having been a teacher for several years, lesson planning is sometimes time-consuming yet, as an educator, one has to keep students engaged through curiosity, exploration, and discovery. I believe a teacher must be excited about teaching a topic - especially if it’s about making real-life connections to knowledge and learning. I have spent hours searching through books, curricula, teacher resources, websites, and lesson plans for my students. My main objective has always been to have fun, innovative, hands-on, and challenging activities for my students.

STEAM Education is an approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. STEAM is enriching, skill-building, and makes real-life career-infused connections. It is all about project-based learning, that is innovative and student-centered. Lessons involve addressing a  dynamic question with problem-solving and critical thinking skills collaboratively, then brainstorming,  planning, designing, building, and testing, ending with a presentation and reflection. 

Project-based learning provides an opportunity for students to interact, share, think, plan, create, and present. Students get inspired, and motivated and take pride and ownership of their creativity, imagination, and solutions. STEAM projects are all about, “learning by doing” which has allowed me to learn and grow with my students. Students are consistently inspiring me with their outstanding skills and creativity. It is a beautiful feeling to witness a young scientist, a creative problem solver, a designer, or an engineer in the making! It’s been an amazing journey of exploration and discovery indeed! STEAM activities also bring about and highlight a student's potential in different areas of interest, for example in technology or building or app designing, or forensics. They get to learn about their own strengths and areas of improvement. So, at an early age, they learn about their future subjects of interest in high school or college.

Many teachers use projects as a means of student assessment, but a project is not the same as project-based learning. A project is typically an application phase at the end of a learned lesson, whereas project-based learning IS THE LEARNING and an ongoing process. In the STEAM Lab at The Gooden School, students built ecosystem dioramas, hurricane-proof houses, space debris robots, houses on Mars, bridges for animals, and straw roller coasters. They learned to create with scratch programming, and coding languages and experimented with circuits using biodegradable items and testing acidity levels in various liquids. These activities encourage students to develop problem-solving skills while growing their public speaking and presentation abilities. 

Watching my students grow in confidence is incredibly satisfying. It’s a joy to watch them build their creativity and leadership skills. Students are introduced to STEAM/STEM careers in the real world, and they are inspired to make connections to explore their passions. Project-based learning teaches students accountability and time management, builds confidence, and teaches them to take creative risks. I am thrilled to be able to share as a co-curricular teacher and it brings me the joy of teaching and developing natural curiosity in students. I encourage you to try some STEAM/STEM challenges at home with your families, so you can see their creativity flourish too!  It’s all about taking risks, making mistakes, and learning. There’s nothing right or wrong until you experiment and explore! 

Alka Kumar joined Gooden in 2021 as the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Teacher. Ms. Kumar is a nature lover and a compassionate science educator who believes that every student has their own special gifts.

Holding a master’s degree in life science and microbiology, she’s worked as a STEM teacher at Sierra Madre Elementary and through her own Curious Kids Science enrichment program, offering fun, hands-on science/STEAM classes/camps and workshops for K-12 school students at Barnhart, the Los Angeles Arboretum and Pasadena Rosebud Academy. Dedicated to inspiring young girls who have a passion, talent, and aptitude in the STEAM field, Ms. Kumar has also brought her love of teaching to Project Scientist Academy as a STEAM coach.

She also teaches as an independent instructor with the Institute for Educational Advancement. She has taught classes in environmental defense, kitchen chemistry, microbiology, botany, general science, and special sessions for gifted students. A nature lover at heart, she enjoys visiting national parks in her leisure time with her family and her energetic border collie, Nyra.
 

Growing Leaders at The Gooden School

April 21, 2022
By John Williamson and Middle School Students

Working at The Gooden School for the past twelve years has been an incredible experience. My primary source of joy is working with our students and encouraging them to grow and become leaders. This month, I discussed leadership with the seventh-grade class, and encouraged them to reflect on what they have learned about leadership during their time at The Gooden School. Students wrote about their transformative experiences as admissions ambassadors, student council, chapel, and their involvement in group projects, debates, sports, and drama. Some students feel like leaders, and others feel like they are learning about leadership from the leaders around them.

One student wrote very personally about leadership, including these specifics about The Gooden School experience, “My kindergarten teachers taught me to express my thoughts and be bolder. My first-grade teacher helped me be more creative and less shy. My second-grade teacher taught me a lot about helping others. My third-grade teacher taught me to be more social with others. My fourth-grade teacher taught me to be proud of my education. I am no longer scared to raise my hand in class, and I don’t hold back in writing assignments. My fifth-grade teacher taught me how to be a leader. We worked on group projects often and I used a lot of the skills I learned before and put them together. I became less bossy and a better leader. When the pandemic came, and we were learning remotely, my newfound leadership skills faded to the back of my mind. When in-person learning began again, I remembered to be bossy but nothing else. I liked taking charge and organizing things, but I realized that I didn’t like when others bossed me around—especially without asking for my thoughts or opinions. I thought about how I would overpower others’ opinions and felt bad. Growing up in an environment like that of The Gooden School taught me many things, but it also taught me to be myself. I learned that my personality is bossy and always will be, but I also managed to tone down that bossiness and become a leader.”

Another student wrote, “An understanding, caring leader is one who is interested in and respectful of the lives of the group members. Being a leader is not just about being in charge; it's about making others feel happy.” This student understands the mindset of a leader and how leadership is connected to respect for others.

This student reflected on how courage and wisdom are part of the leadership process, “The school teaches students not just to get the right answer, but to understand and really know the concept. This ties into leadership, since being a leader requires knowledge and the bravery to answer and lead.”

One student reflected on how a leader must also be humble, “A leader who directs a team must be prepared to take the blame for any mistakes.” Another student noticed how leaders must “take responsibility, speak their thoughts clearly and give instructions and feedback in a way that is understandable and constructive.” “Being a leader isn’t just giving orders, it is making others feel motivated.”

 Students also recognize the importance of being organized. These skills can help leaders achieve their goals. “I have learned to manage assignments and to get them done. I have learned to communicate, use my resources, seek out help when needed, and ask if someone needs help.”

 Teachers at The Gooden School give our students many opportunities to mature as leaders through their years with us. We also know that students have many other opportunities to see leadership models in their families and the world around them.  Our task is to be positive and humble as we seek to lead by example and encourage them to see positive examples of leadership all around them.  

John Williamson joined The Gooden School in 2010. Born on Wright Patterson Air Force base in Fairborn, Ohio, Mr. Williamson grew up as the son of a journalist-turned Episcopal priest and a schoolteacher-turned homemaker-turned schoolteacher. He attended Azusa Pacific University, where he earned both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. He has also taught in Shandong, People’s Republic of China.  When he isn’t teaching, he enjoys writing, playing family games with his wife and two children, hiking, cooking, reading books and student-written work, and recording original songs.

Mr. Williamson believes that reading and ruminating over literature is how we understand what it means to be human. He approaches every English class with rich anticipation, knowing that his students are all in the process of growth and discovery. 

Finding Pockets of Joy

March 17, 2022
By Juaneeq Kim

The lasting impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic is evident in schools and communities across the world. How we view education and operate in society is, in many ways, forever changed. Through many trials, some silent struggles, and numerous adjustments, we continue to persevere. 

While reflecting on the past two years, I try to center myself on areas and opportunities of joy. One of the brightest spots came as we began to exit the deepest part of our global crisis and reopen the doors to our schools. My fellow educators and I were given the opportunity to not only rebuild and strengthen positive teacher-student relationships but to also re-witness the important role school plays in the daily lives of our students. My gratitude does not stop at the level of education that I’m able to provide for my students in person. Yet, so much of it rests in the joy teaching has provided us as educators.   

I began this school year feeling broken. My mind and heart were heavier than ever. On August 20, 2021, my joyful and larger-than-life uncle passed away. Just as I began to grapple with accepting his death and properly mourning him, my grandmother also passed away. Her passing was a painful ten days after my uncle’s. I was crushed. Flabbergasted. Broken. She was a rock in the storm. A constant. My entire family was left scrambling, fragmented, mournful, distressed, and devastated. Joy would have to come from outside of me. Outside of my circle. Outside of the norm.

I find that in times such as those, it is healthy to experience and process our grief, normal to lament our losses, and common to yearn for the days before our current chaos. I believe that even in our deepest, darkest sadness we can find small bits of joy. Often those small bits of joy, or silver linings, appear when we least expect them; but always as we need them. One Tuesday morning, I entered my classroom as usual and noticed something on my desk. I walked closer and I found a small note that read, “Dear Mrs. Kim, I really want to be like you because you are so kind and amazing that you make my heart shine with your love and care for everyone in our class.”

At that moment, I remembered the countless conversations my grandmother and I shared about teaching. She was the first teacher I knew. As a young girl I would watch her get dressed in the mornings as she put on her cherry red lipstick that matched her bright red hair and say, “As a teacher, I am a frontline soldier of my student’s success.” Her words lingered as I reread the letter and, in that moment, all I could feel was joy. The joy that comes from teaching is felt on a deeper level. It is being the best part of someone’s day and sometimes, it is the best part of yours.

This year I have had to adapt my approach in creating and fostering a positive culture in my classroom to ensure that students feel a sense of connection, regardless of the modality of instruction. Students are resilient by nature, but after a year of online instruction, transitioning to hybrid instruction, and finally back to full in-person instruction, what they need most now is compassion, rapport, and companionship. Addressing the social and emotional needs of students has a direct impact on the quality of the learning environment and creates a thriving classroom community. Rebuilding relationships with students is the key to unlocking how they best learn.

A highlight in our classroom is our Shout-Out! system. Students use the shout-out system to anonymously write words of acknowledgement, encouragement, or thanks to one another. The shout-outs then get read aloud to students on Fridays. This instills a sense of pride in both the student giving the shout-out, as well as the student receiving it. It also incentivizes other students to do good acts, and to show thanks for good acts. In addition to the Shout-Out! system, we also have Class Gems. Students can earn gems through good deeds or acts of service and later cash them in for prizes. Another activity that brings students great joy is Classroom Transformations. This is where we transform our room into a specific setting or theme. The transformations engage students in their own learning and enrich rigorous content. Recently, students discovered the third-grade classroom had been transformed into a pirate ship! On their desk, students found a crumpled map, an eye patch, and a pirate hat to aid in their personal transformations. On the instructional screen they saw the message: “Arrrggg you ready to be a pirate and find some treasure? Complete all ten challenges or you may have to walk the plank! When you finish all of the challenges, find Mrs. Kim to get your worksheet checked and to receive your “pirate booty.”

Using innovative and creative ways to teach engages students and helps them grasp challenging skills more easily. Students may never remember what you taught them but will never forget how you made them feel. This saying explores the balance teachers must seek each day. While we look for our students’ attention and engagement, it’s their trust we truly need to gain and protect.

As I put on my red lipstick, just like my grandmother, I am reminded that feeling gratitude and joy are choices and I choose to find joy in teaching every day.

Juaneeq Kim joined The Gooden School in the fall of 2020. Mrs. Kim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and creative writing from California State University, Northridge, and a master’s in education, with an emphasis in leadership and change, from Antioch University. Mrs. Kim guides her students in exploring the importance of academic success by cultivating an inclusive classroom environment, maximizing individual student performance, and instilling a sense of self-worth among all students. Mrs. Kim believes in the power of developing meaningful relationships and how it is critical to successful learning. She believes with all her heart that any child can succeed in a classroom where they feel safe, challenged, and engaged. Her number one goal is to respect the integrity of each child, as she challenges them to reach their full potential. 

When she is not being a wife, and an active dog mom, she is an avid writer, scrapbooker, and TV show fanatic.

Showing Compassion and Caring in the Classroom and Beyond

February 17, 2022
By Aisling Valle

As humans, compassion comes naturally. We learn to read body and facial expressions at a young age. Our compassion for others encourages us to respond to these expressions in the hopes of spreading love and positivity. The action of getting involved separates compassion from empathy, concern, and sympathy. 

In first grade we use the “bucket system,” based on the Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, Bucket Filling A-Z, and How Full Is Your Bucket books. Gooden School first-graders understand that everyone has an invisible bucket and when we show acts of kindness and compassion towards others, both our bucket and the recipient’s bucket start to fill up. We ask the students how they feel when they make a friend smile and they always say it fills their bucket too. For example, this week during lunch, a kindergartner was feeling down because her usual friend that she plays with was absent. A few first-graders saw that “her bucket was empty” and asked if she wanted to play with them. This small act of compassion resulted in new friendships and a fun lunch period for all the students involved. The students know that their compassion towards others is not just limited to their fellow students in the classroom, but to everyone around them, at home and at school.

            Caring and compassion at home can be practiced in many ways: feeding the homeless, donating old toys, making blankets for animals in shelters, volunteering your time, and so much more. But the most significant way to teach and practice compassion is to model by positive action and acknowledge kindness. Our students and children look up to us as role models. We want to lead by example, so our children will grow up as loving and tolerant human beings. I would like to end with a quote from Leo Buscaglia, the late American author and professor, to remind us that a little act of kindness, compassion or care will go a long way.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Aisling Valle has worked in the classroom for 13 years and has taught for the last four years, most recently at St. James Parish Day School in South Pasadena. She received her bachelor's degree in multiple subject teaching for elementary education from Brandman University. She loves watching her students grow into independent, respectful, and kind lifelong learners. Mrs. Valle was born and raised in Los Angeles. During her free time, she loves to travel, camp, snowboard, and go on hikes with her husband and dog. 

Recent Posts

5/19/22 - By Alka Kumar
4/21/22 - By John Williamson and Middle School Students
3/17/22 - By Juaneeq Kim
2/17/22 - By Aisling Valle
1/20/22 - By Tricia Xavier
12/16/21 - By David Kitch