Polaris is unique for many reasons, but the most important is because of the expeditionary learning model. Polaris focuses on field research and experience rather than the old school thought that reading books will help students learn. There are many field trips the students take throughout the semester, whether it is to meet with the mayor to learn about government, take the Max bus to learn about transportation, or take trips all around the world. To many the structure of the school seems too progressive, however, it is very evident that students are learning and transferring knowledge and skills to various aspects of their lives.
Polaris is in a neighborhood close to Colorado State University, thus there is a mixture of families and college students. There are more and more families moving in around the area, so there are many changes in the surround neighborhood. It is located in central/northern Fort Collins area, so there are nice areas around it, like City Park, shopping centers and homes.
The design principles for expeditionary learning for Polaris are below: “1. The Primacy of Self-Discovery 2. The Having of Wonderful Ideas 3. The Responsibility for Learning 4. Empathy and Caring 5. Success and Failure 6. Collaboration and Competition 7. Diversity and Inclusion 8. The Natural World 9. Solitude and Reflection 10. Service and Compassion”
(https://pol.psdschools.org/about-polaris/expeditionary-learning-design-principles Culture and Community)
Support and Structure
There is a lot of support for students. IEP are available for students who need specific instruction. In our class, there is a para to provide extra help for students and resources. He also helps the teacher, Julie, to model classroom in striation for students.
Polaris is part of Poudre School District, so there is support from the PTO and the local government in supporting the school. The PTO organizes fundraisers to help reach the financial needs of students who are going on expeditions out of Fort Collins, and sometimes even out of the country. The school also has informative resources the SART (Sexual Assault Resource Team) to educate and raise awareness for important issues.
Polaris has around 230 students. 87% are white, 7% are hispanic, 1% are african-american, 1% are asian, and 3% are more than one race. About 26% is eligible for free and reduced lunch, leaving the majority ineligible. In terms of test scores, 52% are proficient in math and 77% are proficient in reading and language. The graduation rate is at about 80%.
Classroom Environment and Students
Students call teachers by their first names, so the atmosphere is much more relaxed than other schools. In our kindergarten class, there are very high expectations for behavior. The teacher, Julie, sets high standards and does not let the students take advantage or get away with distracting behavior. There is a huge difference from seeing how the students acted their first week to how they act now, they are so well behaved for their age.
Their classroom is very well organized. There are 17 students in the class. There are five tables for students, usually three or four to a table. The students usually start the day by flipping their cards and sitting on the purple rug in the front for classroom instruction. Here they go over things like weather, describing the weather, dates, letters, numbers, etc. After that, they do several activities throughout the day. There are different areas around the classroom, there are supplies, costumes, play areas, and tables. The classroom is decorated with posters that have many pictures and educational things like letters and numbers. There are many books of different reading levels. There is also a SMART board in the front of the class, as well as four computers.
Below is a diagram of the classroom:
Student 1 is the leader o the table and with some of the other girls in class. She comes up with original ideas that others like to mimic. She is a little more talkative compared to others.
Student 2 is a very quiet and timid student but usually comes up with really creative ideas and stories behind her work. She is always very responsive when asked questions about her art.
Student 3 is the one who gets in the most trouble but works really well when he decides to. He instigates others around him and frequently has to be moved, but has improved greatly and leaned to focus better throughout the semester. He finds really interesting ways to use his materials.
Student 4 was hard to get her attention at first, but has constantly worked well in the last couple classes. In the beginning, she refused to do art and chose to sit out, but now explains she is always excited to make art. She is easily influenced by student 1 and creates art that in pretty similar to hers but always finds some variation in her own work.
Student 5 was difficult to engage at first; we later found out he has an IEP. He has been very engaged with more tactile mediums like clay and found-object sculptures. He always is responsive in groups discussions, but sometimes cannot work the entire class.
Student 6 has very well developed thought processes. She is always able to recognize when she learns something new with a medium and articulates her artistic intention very well. She usually finishes her work a little quicker than others, but always find other forms of art to make if she has time.
Student 7 had some behavior issues in the beginning, but has seemed to really focus in the last couple classes. He has had a lot of growth in terms of exploring his materials.
Student 8 is usually pretty quiet and is influenced by what student 6 is creating. She has really engaged with the contemporary art examples we have provided and has created her own art work based off some of the examples. She comes up with detailed background stories for her work.
Student 9 comes up with his own ideas and is not as easily influenced by his classmates’ works because he has such a confident vision for his work. He always interacts with student 10 and they sometimes collaborate for their projects. Student 9 is really able to communicate his ideas from his sketchbook and translate them into a final product.
Student 10 works really well with student 9 and comes up with really interesting ideas also. The two together seem to come up with concepts that others in the class do not.
Student 11 asks for help and to show the teachers her work a lot. She knows she is very capable and has good ideas, but likes to show us her work right when she finishes.
Student 12 has had some different interpretations of the project, whether it’s the theme or the medium, but he always comes up with a creative way to do them differently. He is always very excited to create art and goes with the flow, even if he isn’t doing what everyone else it.
Student 13 is very influenced by others around her. She really likes to borrow ideas and likes to ask for help from the teachers.
Student 14 had some behavioral issues at first, but has grown a lot. He tells the most elaborate stories about his art works and comes up with solutions to the creative process that many other students wouldn’t. He is very confident in his ideas and work, which sometimes means he does not want to create work with the skills we are teaching, but tries to make it work otherwise.
Student 15 is very shy but has many literacy skills already. He does not always understand the task we are doing, but still produces work that aligns with the standards. He is very soft-spoken, but shows his excitement when he finishes his work.
Student 16 has the most behavioral issues, as she is always instigating other students in the class. There are a few students, like student 17, who she works really well with and they collaborate on ideas. She is very confident in her work and can create very detailed stories about each part of her work.
Student 17 is one of the hardest to engage. For several of the projects, he has either finished really quickly or stopped working before he finishes. With many of the projects though, he has experimented really well with the mediums before actually starting the final product.
Poudre School District’s mission is to “Educate...Every Child, Every Day”. This is possible through the management and resources that the district and teachers provide for the students.
Site-management for the district ensure that all school “decisions and actions shall comply with governing law; Board of Education policies; and District policies, regulations and administrative guidelines and procedures.” This ensures a variety of levels of rules and regulations that are regulated by the principal and fair to students.
One of the foundations of Poudre School District is Safe Schools. This ensures that students are provided a safe environment with a trained staff. Below are some of the plans to ensure student safety: 1. A designated and trained building crisis response team 2. Lockdown, fire, evacuation, and severe weather procedures 3. Access and building check-in procedures 4. Staff training and a plan for yearly drills of procedures
Conflict resolution is to ensure a respectful environment for students and staff. The principal is required to inform the staff of disciplinary policies for students. Before taking extreme actions, the school must comply with “use of prevention, intervention, restorative justice, peer mediation, counseling and/or other approaches to help students avoid unacceptable behavior”.
Students will special needs, mental, physical, or social, can notify the school and create a 504 or IEP plan. This enables awareness to teachers so that teachers can provide proper accommodations for students. This includes but is not limited to alteration of lesson, special seating, special test-taking conditions, etc.
Our Class In our class, the management is heavily addressed at the beginning of the semester, so there are really few behavioral problems later in the semester. Teaching techniques like Love and Logic are used to speak to the students and give them a choice to take responsibility for their education. As the semester has progressed, students are consistently making the choice to actively participate and engage in learning. There is one student that we know of with an IEP, but for the most part he participates well and engages in group discussions. There is also a paraprofessional in our class to assist with tasks and management. We have not seen any of the safety policies in action, as we have not been there during drills or training. Overall, I am very impressed with how well the students behave and interact in class, which is all a result of how Julie manages the classroom.
Unit Topic // Rational
Our unit plan for kindergarten is heavily focused on a couple standards that are about self-expression and story telling. For example, Standard 2.1 states that students are able to “identify that art represents and tells the stories of people, places, or things”. Standard 1.2 states that “personal feelings are described through works of art. All of our lessons have been an exploration of materials while expressing personal interests of the students.
Getting to Know Each Other
Our first project was to get to know each other by decorating the front of their sketchbooks to make them personal and to draw a puzzle piece that represents themselves. The sketchbook assignment allowed for students to draw however they want, and whatever they want. It was a great way for us to see the variety of ways students utilized different materials and learn what they are interested in. Some students layered water colors on top of oil pastels, making a more abstract and colorful cover, while other students told more of a story. One student drew herself sliding down a rainbow, while one drew his favorite train. When we got to the puzzle pieces, students worked more representational than with the book covers. They all turned out very different, which was exactly what we had hoped for. In the end, we talked with the students about how we are all special, but we are not part of a class where we work together. This refers to one of the Prepared Graduate Competencies that states students show identify art to “learn about the diversity of peoples”. We all did the same assignment, but students observed how different the results were.
For the second lesson, we wanted to focus on movement, which was a school focus for the semester. In the introduction, we discussed how artists are able to make things that are still look like they are moving through implied lines and position of the body. There were two parts to this lesson, the ideation with paint and building with pipe cleaners. For ideation, we had students work with a partner. One student would freeze while they were doing something, and the other student would paint them. After they did that, we brought out pipe cleaners and let students build whatever they wanted, as long as it showed something moving. Students came up with interesting sculptures, like dogs running or people dancing. Overall, this lesson was really our first opportunity to use the sketchbooks for ideation. We were not sure if the idea of motion was really understood, so the next week we did a similar project.
Moving into Colors and Painting
This project was to repeat the concept of motion and allow a more personal approach. We set up large pieces of paper in the gym and set up paints for every student. Students had a demonstration on how to mix colors, then the assignment was to paint them doing an activity they like that involves motion. This lesson demonstrated that they did understand motion and how to visually show it. One student drew himself riding a scooter, some did hiking. Some demonstrated movement by showing their legs in a walking position, some showed it by having footprints from where people had already walked. The interpretations were all different, but for the most part the class understood. This lesson really connected the school unit of motion to Standard 3.1 that states students will “create two-dimensional works of art based on personal relevance.
Found Object Transportation
Again, we wanted to see if we could do another lesson on motion, but not with people. We also introduced a new medium to the students: found objects. We asked the students to come up with a completely new form of transportation, whether it is a mix of something that already exists or something that has never been thought of. When students started experimenting with the found objects, they got really engaged and creative on how they could use the materials. At the end of the class, we took students outside to show how their sculptures move. This was our evidence that they understood the idea of motion in this lesson, as they were all running around, some making sounds, some floating, showing how their object would move. This lesson was really successful because the medium was exciting and new to students.
Found Object Houses
We wanted to give students another opportunity to work with found object sculptures, so we asked them to build a house to go along with their transpiration. We got enough smaller boxes that students could use as a foundation for their house. We had students think about features of a house: windows, colors, shape, doors, etc. Students could create whatever kind of home they want. When we were asking about the homes, students would go into these elaborate stories on what their houses did. One house was a laser house that kills all the bad people like zombies. Another would float around in space and move like a helicopter. These stories were all reactions to the materials and what the materials reminded them of. It was fun to hear all of the stories behind their houses.
Students really wanted to work with clay, so we did clay sculptures of their favorite foods. We taught slipping and scoring as the technique. We showed examples of an artist who used food to show different worlds and scenes, like a house made of candy or a pyramid made out of cheese. This really got students interested and many of them started making buildings and objects out of their food. Though the lesson went in a different direction, it actually turned out better than if they just made food. For example, one student made snowmen that were made out of blueberries and straws and they were playing tag because they were friends. Even when it came to objects like food, the students were still able to tell stories about them. The assignment was really personal to students because they all had different favorite foods and different ways to express the idea. Storytelling Centers
This lesson started out as the teachers dressing up as a mad scientist and Frankenstein. Class started with a story about how Frankenstein was created. Then, we told students we were making art that tells a story. There were five different stations: sketching, painting, modeling clay, found-object sculptures, and the new medium was monotypes. Students had a little under 10 minutes to create art work, but had many different materials to explore. When asked, students were easily able to tell the story of what they were creating, many of them having a spooky theme since it was around Halloween. Overall, the students did really well exploring all kinds of materials.
Printmaking Centers of a Time You Were Happy
We wanted to try centers again, but with much fewer centers so there was more time to work on projects. The students had learned monotypes the previous week, so this week they learned styrofoam relief printing. Students were asked to make art about a time they remember being happy. We sketched out ideas before starting the printmaking, so student came up with specific events were they remembered being happy. Some student also drew objects that make them happy, like Pokemon cards and trains. By the time they got to the printmaking stations, they were creating the same ideas they drew in their sketchbooks. This was really exciting to see that students were utilizing the ideation period. The students did really well with printmaking and understood the concept that you are able to make more that just one copy of a picture, but you can do multiples.
This unit has been a mixture of telling stories and exploring different materials. It has been great to see the students develop and meet the standards and expectations we have set for them.