Lower school science teacher Kasey Wooten only moved into her new classroom in the Science and Environmental Center (SEC) a few weeks ago, and already this move has already brought with it new curricular possibilities.
“My new classroom is amazing,” she said. “We have so much more space, students are more free to move around to try out ideas in open areas. We have big windows overlooking the bay, where we can observe things—both birds and planes—in motion.”
The timing of this move could not have been more perfect for Kasey and kindergarten associate teacher Azure Wheelus-Dannels, as it coincided with the start of a new three-week rotation. The new cohort dove into a unit on flight, inspired by the yearlong kindergarten of Leonardo da Vinci.
“da Vinci was really big on this idea of biomimicry (the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes),” Kasey explained. “He was also into hands-on exploring, thinking outside the box, and tweaking already existing tools into new tools.”
Before creating their own gliding machines, students went on a campus nature walk to study the gliding animals that frequently visit the 33-acre Hillsborough campus: turkey vultures and sugar gliders.
“Students took notes and wrote down their observations of these gliding creatures,” Kasey said. “We want students to learn the process of collecting information and then applying it to their own design engineering work.”
Once they had collected data, kindergarteners set out to build paper airplanes which applied the four principles of flight—thrust, lift, draft, and working against gravity—they had observed. They made the Suzanne—”a pretty complex airplane design,” Kasey added—and through trial and error aimed to create a paper plane that stayed airborne. Students asked themselves, “How can I make this better?” and “What did the turkey vultures teach me that I can incorporate into my design.”
“It brings me so much joy to see the ‘aha’ moments that students have,” Kasey said, “when suddenly, through explorations, something clicks for them they say, ‘Oh i get it!’ I really enjoy this unit because I love to see students building their empathy. For students to use observations to better understand other living things and to apply those in their designs is really inspiring to me. The students were thoughtful, engaged, curious, and clever, and I am constantly amazed at their resilience and creativity.”