Lower School News

Leonardo and Lisa Visit a Class of Renaissance Kids
Jim Morrison, director of student outreach and special projects


“Good afternoon, Lisa. I’m so glad we could take a break from painting to join this kindergarten class.”

“Hello, Leonardo.” 

So began Paul’s and Rashida’s kindergarten class just before Thanksgiving break, one that took students all the way back to 15th century Florence to meet Leonardo da Vinci (Paul) and Mona Lisa (Rashida). 

“Over the last month, we have been learning about Leonardo da Vinci,” shared lead teacher Paul Knight. “In this annual kindergarten study, we are really looking at the profile of a gifted learner so that students can see themselves through the eyes of Leonardo di Vinci.”

The prototypical Renaissance man and the subject of his most famous painting visited class to learn more about the students’ interests and to hear firsthand what the class has been studying about da Vinci and his many accomplishments.

While some were skeptical about the time-traveling guests’ true identities, most students in the class threw themselves into the fun, relishing the opportunity to ask the pair about their lives.

“Paul and I love to have fun with the kids, and because they are in kindergarten, they really just embrace it,” said associate teacher Rashida Blade. “We are always trying to have a good time, regardless of the lesson.”

Da Vinci’s life and work has special resonance for many learners in the Nueva community, not just for his accomplishments but perhaps, more important, for the way he lived and learned throughout his life.

“Throughout the unit, we have learned how failure is part of the process,” Paul said. “We have learned about Leonardo’s perfectionism, his difficulties following through with projects, and his difficulty and struggles with managing the many interests he had—something that students really see in themselves.”  

There is so much to learn from Leonardo regarding patience, iteration, and dreaming big.

“Even though his fly machine did not work—as one of our students pointed out during the call—he really did inspire the people who were able to make his dream of flight a reality hundreds of years later,” Paul reflected. “Whether it is being an architect, or using science, or expanding on a piece of artwork, we are trying to make sure that students understand that they don’t have to conform to one idea, one interest, or one part of their identity. We also want them to see that, even as kindergarteners, they have the ability to create something that could be useful later on.”

During class, Leonardo, Lisa, and the kindergarten students created a list of interests and subject areas Leonardo studied during his lifetime. Lisa and Leonardo then surveyed the students to see where their own interests overlapped. 

“We want the students to see themselves as Renaissance kids, where they can follow all of their interests,” added Paul.

Using Leonardo’s work and his tendency to look toward nature in his designs as inspiration, Paul and Rashida created a unit that merged biomimicry and design thinking.

“We posed the problem to students that people all over the world are having where we need to be socially distancing,” Paul explained. “The students looked at nature and how animals distance themselves. They then used the clues they found in nature to design their own machines that could help people remind themselves to keep distance. In our projects, we want our students to be able to express themselves in many languages. We create blueprints with paper and pen. We use sculpture to begin making prototypes. We also use writing to describe their work in more detail.”

To build their prototypes and bring their ideas to life, students relied on a variety of materials. Working remotely and in-class during this project created the challenge of students having access to various materials throughout the process. Flexibility, empathy, iteration, and innovation have been at the heart of the efforts of our teachers and students this fall. On the call, Leonardo and the Mona Lisa were very impressed with the kindergarteners’ ability to use Zoom—having never even seen computers before Paul and Rashida let them borrow theirs for class.

“A key word in kindergarten is ‘flexible,’” Paul noted. “Any time we say it, or when  the students say it, we always do a little wiggle dance. It helps the kids to know that even if we don’t always have the right materials, or the same materials as everyone else, we still have ways we can work through it together.” 

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