What Does Inquiry-Based Science Look Like at Perkins?
Inquiry-based science refers to the process where students actively develop their own knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as learn how scientists study the natural world. Our science program teaches and expects students to go beyond the memorization of basic facts and concepts. While it is important to be familiar with key scientific ideas, we strive to push students beyond these basics and to do something authentic with their knowledge. This means that students be asked to create a product or perform an activity that has value outside of the classroom.
Our student-centered science classroom allows the opportunity for students to ask questions, test and critique explanations and critically think about and solve real problems. Students are encouraged to “think out loud” about ideas with other students. During science class, you will see kids contemplating, making decisions, taking chances, trying new things, and listening to each other’s ideas.
There is no question that students love science at Perkins. They are encouraged to follow their curiosities and are comfortable and eager to share insights and theories. They often work in teams and not on rote lab exercises or worksheets, but on meaningful real life problems that engage their individual interests. The reason for this teamwork approach is that scientific inquiry, the process of investigation, reflection, and further investigation benefits greatly from the collaboration of several people. This allows students not only to learn concepts and hone process skills but to become aware of their own thinking, paving the way for autonomous learning.
We believe science activities succeed only if they generate student questions and promote further thinking. The key is to engage students in a genuine process of inquiry that relates to their own lives and challenges them to construct their own ideas.
Environmental Science Philosophy at Perkins
Taking the classroom outdoors and the learning into the natural world are fundamental to the environmental science program at The Perkins School. We strive to provide our students with the opportunity to build positive relationships with their environment and cultivate a sense of place and an interest in their world.
Using our local environment as a context for learning is an integral part of our hands- on, inquiry-based environmental science program. In this way, science becomes exciting, tangible, and meaningful. Students at Perkins dive into science! Our studies often involve our two native plant gardens, all-organic pea patch, and local community ecosystems. Other components include an annual weeklong environmental experience to either the Olympic National Forest along the shores of Lake Crescent or to IslandWood on Bainbridge Island, and student-constructed native gardens in area preschools.
We are also entering our 5th year as site stewards of Thornton Creek. Throughout the year our 4/5th students visit Thornton Creek Park as part of our embedded yearlong stewardship program in collaboration with Seattle Parks and Recreation. Once a month the older students partake in field research, collecting data, identifying and removing invasive species, planting native plants and monitoring the creek’s health through an on-going abiotic and biotic assessment project.
When students are involved in meaningful on-going field research they become excited and can relate to scientific concepts that are hard to fully grasp in a classroom. This leads to better understanding of ideas such as biodiversity, nature’s need for balance, the interconnectedness of natural and human communities, and the impact that humans can have on the environment.
Stewardship in our younger grades (EK-3) is founded on the idea that kids need to personally investigate and analyze explore their own surroundings before being fully introduced to the larger environmental issues of our world. Students in all grades are able to formally and informally investigate our native gardens and bucolic playground every day. As noted author Richard Louv noted, “Kids today can tell you lots of things about the Amazon rain forest, but usually can’t tell you the last time they lay under a tree and watched the leaves move.” He goes on to say that learning about the Amazon is not a bad idea as long as it’s not purely an abstraction. Happily, children at Perkins do have a direct connection with the earth; they have their hands in it every day.
Why is Math a Priority at Perkins?
We strongly believe that an encouraging and engaging climate for a child’s first experience with mathematics develops their confidence, competence, and affinity for math. These positive experiences help our students develop curiosity, inventiveness, persistence, and much more. These characteristics will contribute to their success both inside and outside of school. As in other academic areas, opinions on math instruction have become polarized. On one end lies the student-centered, constructivist approach that relies on conceptual understanding and communication (what detractors call “Fuzzy Math”). On the other there is teacher directed, basic skills focus (“Parrot Math”). Our successful and balanced program takes the best from both points of view. Perkins school graduates must be mathematically competent, but (perhaps more importantly), must also be imbued with a real passion for the subject. To develop both enthusiasm and skill, We have put the following key components into place:
Hands-on Foundational Work
Rather than quickly and superficially learning arithmetic, children work with concrete materials to build a conceptual foundation. This allows students to develop truly deep understanding.
Open-ended Math Activities
These are highly motivating and allow multiple avenues to a solution. They are constructivist in nature and prompt children to explain their reasoning.
Work with Standard Forms
Although children at primary levels and above are encouraged to explore their individual strategies, they also need to learn standard arithmetic techniques such as long division and addition of decimals.
Quick recall is essential when tackling complicated problems. Practice methods must be varied to make learning the facts more fun and make them “stick.”
To feel successful and fully engaged, students must be challenged at appropriate levels. Struggling students need elements of remediation and more advanced students need enriched opportunities.
Flexibility and Speed
Utilizing concepts such as number strings and subitization, students learn to quickly identify sets of numbers without counting and to flexibly solve mental math problems and share their strategies.
A walk through Perkins math classes with their happy, engaged children gives an intuitive confirmation that we are succeeding, yet we insist upon empirical affirmation. The administration and the core teachers work closely together to consistently assess our students in math. Using NCTM (National Council for Teachers of Math) standards, along with our own established grade level benchmarks, teachers closely monitor the progress of all of our mathematicians. An engaging, multi-faceted curriculum, individualization, and an emphasis on flexible thinking and communication are key to our success. With these elements in place, we feel confident that all of our students leave Perkins academically well-prepared, with deep and abiding affinity for math.
Literacy: Reading & Writing for a Reason
Writing at Perkins
Teachers create authentic purposes, contexts, and audiences to deeply engage their students in every aspect of writing. Students learn to value and understand why they are writing so that they appreciate the need for lucidity, organization, voice, and completion. Perkins students are known not only for their foundational skills and creativity, but also for their desire to express themselves through the written word.
Kindergarteners are excited to discover the connection between the words they speak and written symbols. They work in small groups with encouraging teachers and adult volunteers to express their personal stories by using writing and drawing. First graders line the walls with their writings about “small moments,” magical happenings, and experiences they are eager to share with others. Second and third graders take great pleasure in developing and elaborating their stories, plastering the walls with their ever-expanding displays of creativity and sense of adventure. Fourth and fifth graders take their personal narratives through multiple steps of revising and editing as they learn how to use word choices and writing strategies to become advanced, accomplished writers. Their final, polished versions are compiled in “literary journals” and proudly distributed in the lobby by the students. At The Perkins School we are all writers!
To develop student writing skills and confidence, our writing program includes the following key components:
The Perkins School is a small, close-knit, supportive community of learners. Students of all ages share their writings with each other through inter-class authors’ celebrations, at our all-school Friday Meeting, and with reading buddies. We are proud of how encouraging and accepting our students are of each other regardless of age or writing ability and they are always ready to give rousing applause to a reading.
The Perkins Publishing Center
We believe that student writing should be taken seriously and quality end-products should be produced as much as possible Student stories are often published in our “Publishing Center,” where we turn children’s stories into bound books to put in their class library or take home and keep proudly forever. Students also “publish” their writing through acting, puppet shows, and technology presentations.
Spelling, Grammar, and Conventions
While creative writing “runs rampant” through our halls, we also stress a traditional focus on spelling, grammar rules, punctuation and capitalization, parts of speech, and word conventions (rules for adding plurals, verb tense, syllabication). In second and third grades, students begin to learn self-editing skills in their writing and are expected to be fluent self-editors by the time they complete fifth grade.
Students take pride in their penmanship as they learn both traditional manuscript and traditional cursive (beginning in second grade). Students also begin formal training in keyboarding in second grade.
Writing is a part of every subject: students keep science journals to describe their findings, write explanations of math conclusions and create story problems, write historical diaries, create play scripts in French, and summarize research for presentation to peers and parents.
Students take different paths and advance at different speeds on their journey to becoming successful writers. Teachers adjust expectations and support techniques depending on each student’s needs while challenging every student to “stretch” academically. With high expectations, we guide each writer to achieve their best by providing support, encouragement, and individual attention.
Reading at Perkins
The reading program at Perkins is multi-faceted. Our success-oriented approach uses a wide variety of methods and materials. Student activities include individual, small group, and large group experiences. Our balanced approach, which combines both phonetic and whole language instruction, encourages students to take pride in their strengths and bolster areas that need improvement.
To develop student reading skills and a love of reading, our reading program includes the following key components:
Strong Phonetic Foundation
Early reading instruction at Perkins is grounded in a strong phonetic foundation. Young readers learn the phonetic sounds associated with letters and letter combinations. This enables them to decode words independently and group them into phonetic families. Students can then make deductive leaps from familiar words to novel ones. The pride our new readers exude is undeniable! Our burgeoning readers are then introduced to phonics in a sequential manner using phonetically-controlled, leveled readers. Students work at differing rates with phonics activities within their classrooms from early kindergarten through third grade. We work hard to “stretch” every child appropriately and don’t overly pressure our youngest students. They are exposed to all of our early reading concepts, but we always keep a keen eye on their enthusiasm and attitude.
Our students explore rules at varying vocabulary levels and learn differing types of words—such as contractions, compounds, and plurals—based on their current level. The study of word relationships, vocabulary bases, Latin suffixes and prefixes, and the independent decoding of vocabulary through word analysis continues in fourth and fifth grades. By using national reading standards, we assess all of our students to ensure their consistent progress.
Literature-Based Reading Experiences
Phonetic analysis of words is balanced at all grade levels with the excitement of literature-based reading experiences. Words are celebrated through rhyming, repetitive phrases, creative dramatics, and a variety of whole language experiences. Perkins students become immersed in the joy, wonder, and fun found in books. In the second grade, rather than using grade-leveled commercial “readers,” students read from class sets of carefully selected children’s chapter books. Literature and vocabulary discussions in book circles and a variety of groupings allow students to explore high-quality literature and expand their reading horizons through a range of genres.
Integration with All Studies
Reading is a part of every topic of study; our teachers select literature to enrich and connect units in history, culture studies, and science. Our oldest students work commendably hard to become reflective, analytical, and independent readers.
Reading alone, in a group, silently curled up on a pillow in our cozy library, aloud with expression and fluency, for information while preparing a report, or to a younger child, Perkins children read for the sheer joy of it! Our program ensures that our students have not only the reading skills necessary to thrive in any academic setting, but also the zest for literature to become life-long readers.
Perkins takes great care to ensure that every child feels secure, successful, and appreciated both inside and outside the classroom. We feel that children are at their happiest and learn most effectively in a caring, compassionate learning environment. Our Character Education Program helps students understand, care about, and act on core ethical values such as fairness, honesty, compassion, responsibility, and respect.
We are excited to be partnering with University of Washington’s 3DL program, a joint initiative between the College of Education and School of Social Work, which is dedicated to raising “the profile and integrating the practice of all three dimensions of learning (3DL) — social, emotional and intellectual.” Using facilitation from the 3DL program, along with activities, techniques, and vocabulary from sources such as Second Step and Responsive Classroom, our pro-active philosophy and practices reflect 3DL’s goal of “preparing young people for success in school, work and life.”
We are proud of our kind and clever students, our joyous classrooms, and our dedicated and compassionate teachers. Character education is an essential part of our identity.
Specialists: How We Enrich Student Learning
We believe that every child should be given the opportunity to express her or himself through music. Just as visual art acts as a means of self-expression, so does music.
Students start by building a foundation of musicality through song play and body movement. By the time they have graduated, they are playing a number of instruments, reading music, and performing as a large ensemble. We teach the importance of music making in our Perkins community, as well as a connecting to our greater Seattle music community by bringing in local artists and musicians to perform with our classes. Students are viewed as true musicians as they grow and develop their skills.
Our music program builds self-assurance and students become true performers by the end of their journey here. At Perkins, children come to class excited to discover new things and are confident in their abilities. With a trust and connection to their teachers, they are fearless in their exploration and performance.
For anyone that has ever taught, children that have opportunities for exercise are happier, more focused, and on-task in the classroom.
Quality physical education should have all students up and moving as much as possible. Our program incorporates unique activities (not just traditional sports) to allow children of all abilities and interests to be confidently and fully involved. If the idea of physical activity and exercise is enjoyable and exciting, then students are more likely to engage in activities throughout their lives.
Numerous studies indicate that daily physical activity increases brain function, student achievement, and happiness. The kids love our P.E. program and the teachers and parents appreciate all the benefits.
Beautiful paintings, playful drawings, and sculptures are displayed in every nook and cranny of the school.
Creative expression is tremendously important for all the children. Art appreciation and production is a valuable way to more deeply understand other cultures, people, and eras. The ability of fine art experiences to further the development of strong self-esteem, creativity, and innovation is an essential part of the quality multidimensional education.
In addition to free choice art experiences, children have formal art classes. These classes are designed to provide and foster an environment in which students can learn and understand the basic elements of art, develop skills and techniques, and apply art styles from the examination of various important artists. It also aims to develop visual thinkers and encourage creative problem solving.
We give students a wide variety of technology experiences including: subject area related apps, teacher-selected internet sites for class research, simulations, and more. Students in kindergarten and first grade learn basic iPad care and use the iPads in a limited capacity for reinforcing concepts in language arts and math. Starting in second grade, students have more hands-on tech experiences that include internet research strategies and safety, word-processing, coding, math fact reinforcement, and efficient keyboarding. Core and specialist classrooms employ a variety of tools such as iPads, computers, smart boards, projectors, apple tv, digital microscopes, and document cameras to enhance all academic areas. Although Perkins believes in the necessity of hands-on, real-world learning opportunities, we believe that students that have been given broad, thoughtful exposure to technology understand its power to deepen and expand thinking.
Learning a language involves many functions: listening, speaking, reading and writing. At Perkins we make sure it involves the senses and imagination as well. Students get a firm grounding in conversation, politeness, pronunciation, basic sentence structure, and vocabulary for describing their world. And then we draw, sing or get up and move.
We learn parts of the body through some very active songs. We learn directions by going on a scavenger hunt. Conjugating verbs becomes a team sport. Clothing vocabulary is wrapped into an actual fashion show. When it’s time to learn how to order in a restaurant, we create an actual French café.
Our French program provides a strong foundation for those students who will go on to study French further, a great conversational toolkit and experience with linguistic differences for those who are going on to take a different language in middle and upper school–and a good base of cultural literacy for all. Most of all, we aim to make sure that students experience language learning as a pleasant and rewarding pursuit, at any time in life.
Extended Day Opportunities
Our extended day electives offered after school provide a relaxed, safe, nurturing and fun environment for children. There are a variety of opportunities for children to be involved in group activities, projects and physical activity. Our goal is to provide a stimulating environment in which children can explore, develop friendships and have fun.
Students at Perkins have very thought-provoking and active school days. We recognize that at the end of the school day, children can be tired and need a variety of things: quiet time with a book, vigorous outdoor play, social time with friends, a snack, or time for imaginative play. Others would like to do their homework or join in an art activity. Our staff works hard to create a comfortable and engaging space where the children can pursue all of these activities.
Extended Day Elective Hours
The regular academic school program begins at 8:25 and ends at 3:00 for kindergarten and 1st grade students, and 3:30 for second though fifth grade students. The school, however, is open from 7:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. and offers various clubs, classes & workshops as extended electives, as well as free-choice time. To help with morning drop-off, parents are encouraged to have their child arrive as early as 8:00 AM, but the school is open at 7:00 AM if parents need to drop off their child earlier.
Enrichment Clubs, Classes & Workshops
After-school extended electives are enrichment opportunities that are offered throughout the year and are open to all Perkins students. Carefully selected teachers from inside and outside the school lead a variety of captivating activities. Recent clubs, classes and workshops have included upper-grade advanced math, Spanish, actor’s workshop, art studio, world dance, yoga, chess, Legos and sewing. If they desire, Perkins students are empowered to start their own clubs (with assistance from a teacher or parent). For instance, a first grader led a dance club and a fourth grader led a cartoon drawing club that included a parade of furry and feathered pets to provide inspiration.