“How did they do this?” Making the D.C. Waterways Installation


It has been more than a year since I sat down to write, since, after being moved by the Maya Lin’s Folding the Chesapeake, my second graders collected thousands of bottle caps, deconstructed old pillows, and converted our entire classroom into an art studio, since my heart jumped with a sense of possibility of a potential project, the sense of possibility that, as I last wrote, project based learning creates in children and teachers. (More on that another time.) I recently revisited this blog looking for a math chart and realized that I did not honor my second graders’ finished installation after my previous post. And so I’m here to do that now.

When I first wrote about our water art advocacy project, I shared that we would, “Build our own piece of provocative art, with the hopes that others too, will stop, take a breath, and whisper, ‘How did they do this?'”


Weeks of dreaming and planning led us to create an art installation of the water cycle and D.C.’s waterways using otherwise discarded materials. Through this piece, our second graders hoped to advocate for people to stop consuming bottled water, and to gain an appreciation for how polluted D.C.’s waterways are. They hoped that visitors to the installation would walk away moved to action.

This project consumed our class for weeks. The class furniture crew spent each morning rolling up our carpets, moving tables, shuffling chairs, and rearranging bookshelves to transform our classroom into a work space. We agreed to hold Morning Meeting at desks instead of the carpet so that the rivers could dry. Friends sat in closer quarters to give room for the clouds to dry without having rain strings tangle. They rallied our Pre-K neighbors to collect bottle caps and deliver them to our classroom each morning. It was fully immersive. And the final product was beautiful.

Looking back at this work over a year later, I’m reminded that tackling this kind of work with my students is what will sustain my teaching. Read more to see how these mighty second graders did it.  Continue reading


Provoking Wonder

DSCF3438.jpgThis is my third year of teaching our water pollution expedition. Teaching an expedition again and again has obvious benefits. Questions are refined. Final products become stronger. Fieldwork logistics get tighter. But designing an expedition from scratch is stimulating, challenging, and rewarding. There is excitement in the sense of possibility that grows when teachers come together to plan an expedition.”What if we…” or “This might sound crazy but we could…”Project-based learning nourishes both student and teacher curiosity.

We celebrated the closing of our fall expedition (another expedition repeat) the same December week that I visited the reopening of the Renwick Gallery. I was already thinking about how to reignite energy around our expeditions when I entered the gallery. Mouth agape, I walked through the rooms of the Wonder exhibit taking in redesigned beetles, repurposed tires, and reimagined index cards. IMG_2989


DSCF3453And when I stepped into the Maya Lin exhibit, “Folding the Chesapeake,” my heart jumped. A fellow teacher elbowed me, “Are you thinking of your spring expedition?” Of course. This exhibit did for me what I hope our expedition would do for our students: it provoked a sense of wonder and possibility.IMG_0871This spring, we’ve launched our expedition on pollution in Rock Creek, the Potomac River, and the Anacostia River just as we have in the past. We’ve found observation and contemplation spots near Rock Creek at Peirce Mill; we’ve built background knowledge about stormwater pollution, acid rain, and oil spills; we’ve conducted experiments to determine the properties of water. And just as before, we will continue to partner with local experts like the Rock Creek Conservancy and to conduct fieldwork at these three bodies of water. Soon, friends will become water advocates–writing an informational book to educate others about water pollution in D.C.’s bodies of water. And this is where we will try something new.

Maya Lin’s piece encourages visitors to consider the entire Chesapeake watershed and its interconnectedness. She uses art to encourage conservation. We will try that, too. This year, instead of door knocking and storm drain mural painting, we will create an art installation at Capital City to compel others to consider the effects of pollution on D.C.’s waterways. We will use art for advocacy.

To inspire this work, we visited Lin’s exhibit last week at the Renwick. And, of course, the rest of the Wonder exhibit. DSCF3507“I think I’m going to cry,” Jerry whispered, stepping into a room. “How do they do this?”IMG_2987


DSCF3471In the coming months, we will collect bottle caps, milk tops, fishing line, and more to begin to build our own piece of provocative art, with the hopes that others too, will stop, take a breath, and whisper, “How did they do this?”

Off we go.






We’re on Popville!


In case you missed it, our second graders shared their poems with Ward 4 last week by posting them around our school’s neighborhood.

Popville, a well-read blog in D.C. picked up some of our poems and shared them on the blog this week.

Check it out here!

And if you haven’t seen them, yourself, be sure to check out the streets surrounding our school, take a photo, and share your thoughts with #2APoets.DSCF3320


Sharing Our Poems with Our Neighborhood


When we started our poetry writing unit in early January, we quickly learned the power of sharing poems. During morning meeting, friends brought in favorite poems and read them aloud. Book bins overflowed with books of poems. Friends hand wrote poems found online and brought them to our circle to share. “There’s even a poem here,” Oscar exclaimed during reading workshop, as he discovered line breaks in his informational book about sharks.

I’ve written before about the wonderful weeks of work that go into our poetry writing unit (onetwothree). In the past, we’ve invited friends and families in for poem readings and hot chocolate; we’ve hung our poems throughout the school; and we’ve shared poems at all school meetings and in other classrooms. This year, we decided to share our poems with a wider audience.


After revising, editing, and publishing their poems, friends made a plan for sharing their poems with our neighbors. “How will we know if they’ve read them?” Escarlet wondered. We added labels to the poems encouraging readers to take a picture and share the poem with their thoughts with #2APoets


In the torrential rain, friends stormed to find spots throughout the neighborhood to surprise our neighbors with poems. Armed with twine, hole punches, scissors, and thumb tacks, we scouted the neighborhood surrounding our school for little spots to hang the poems.


“They can read it while they wait for the bus.”

“Maybe this will make someone happy when they wait to pick up their kids.”

“I want to put mine near Fort Slocum because that’s a special place for us.”

“Everyone walks through this gate. I’ll stick mine here.”


Later that day, friends and families joined us to look for the poems, read together, and share our process.



If you were unable to join us, head out to 2nd Street and Peabody Street, look for a poem, take a picture, and share your thoughts with #2APoets. And be sure to check out all of the poems, also outside of our classroom.



Save the Date: Poetry Celebration

For the past seven weeks, friends have been reading, analyzing, critiquing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing poems.

Please join us to celebrate friends’ writing on Tuesday, February 23 at 2:55. We will meet in Room 113 before heading outside to share our poems. Friends will dedicate their poems to different spaces outside of our school. With your group, you will find the poems and listen as friends share them.

We hope you can join us right at 2:55 for the celebration!



Reminder: Fieldwork Tomorrow

IMG_2591Last Thursday friends bundled up to prepare for fieldwork during temperatures that barely peaked above the teens. They shared sweatshirts, hats, scarves, coats, and gloves with each other. They compared layer totals with each other–“I have eight shirts!” “I have tights and pants and leggings!”

Unfortunately, the bus never showed.

So tomorrow, we’re off again. We will leave at 9:00 on the dot and will return to school in time for lunch. Friends should still dress warmly even though the temperatures will be in the low 40s. Let the layer competitions continue!IMG_2631Last week’s bus issues and below freezing temperatures didn’t get in the way of us heading to Fort Slocum, the Rock Creek extension that neighbors our school. Ms. Fay led friends in playing Motions Telephone, Oscar organized a game of tag, Lucy organized a game of fishing, and eventually, everyone rolled down the hill back to school. See you tomorrow.IMG_2602IMG_2618IMG_2636IMG_2624





“I never want to see a puppy that big.”

Since Winter Break, friends friend have been learning to measure length. We moved from using nonstandard units like popsicle sticks and shoes to standard units like inches, feet, and yards. Friends measured the lengths of their jumps, the width of the classroom, and the length of the Lower School hallways.

This week, friends began to compare lengths to find the difference between two lengths. Today, they compared the height of a puppy and a dog. We’re still on the hunt for a dog this big–“More like a horse,” Georgia suggested–and some are fearful of how big a puppy that size will grow to be. But in the meantime, we compared.

We continue to push friends to model the story problem instead of jumping to ask, “Is it adding or subtracting?”

“We’re not adding the height of the dogs together! They’re not growing!” Georgia reminded. Redirecting the focus from the operation toward the model helps students understand the problem and to, as Justin reminded us, “Make a plan for the best strategy before starting.” Drawing on their experiences solving addition and subtraction story problems, friends generated different strategies for solving the problem.

Today, we dug into two strategies:

Strategy One: Kamari’s Unifix Cube Line Strategy

First, Kamari built 42 and 63 with unifix cubes to represent the height of the dog and the puppy. She used place value to model the numbers using tens and ones. This is often the first move friends make when they see a story problem with two-digit numbers.


Kamari quickly realized that it would be difficult to compare the two numbers in this format. She suggested, “How about I put them together to see?” So she stuck the cubes together into two long lines.



To compare the height of the puppy and the dog, she lined the two sticks up side-by-side, clearly showing where the additional height was on the dog.


Kamari then broke off the “more” from the “dog” stick of unifix cubes.


She labeled the three parts: the puppy, the dog, and the more, to keep herself organized as she worked.


Finally, Kamari counted the “more” to see how much taller the dog was than the puppy.


In the end, this concrete modeling allowed Kamari and others to compare the two. The visual supported them in really understanding the problem, seeing that in fact, nothing was changing–nothing was going away, being eaten, or going home like in many subtraction problems.


Strategy Two: Justin and Sandra’s Number Line Strategy

Justin and Sandra were both trying to draw multiple yardsticks to represent the height of the dog and puppy. “The dog is even taller than a yardstick!” When they found a meter stick, they decided that they could use the centimeter side to represent inches, allowing them to count without needing multiple yardsticks.

First, they marked the height of the puppy and the dog on the meter stick. IMG_2446

Next, they decided to count the number of inches (centimeters in the case of the meter stick) between the height of the dog and the height of the puppy. Some friends were having difficulty visualizing the dog on the meter stick so we grabbed some construction paper from the art center and built a model. Side note from Marjorie: “Tell them to ignore the drawings–this is math, not art. It’s just a quick sketch.” Thanks, Marjorie. 

With the addition of the pictures, it became easier to see where the difference in height began. We cut off the “more” (yikes!) to make it especially clear.IMG_2447“See? That is the more!” Carroll pointed to the group.IMG_2452Finally, Justin counted up from 42 to 63. “1, 2, 3, 4 . . .” to find that that the dog was 21 inches taller than the puppy.