It’s cold outside and the holidays are coming so that can only mean one thing. It is time to head over to Two Rivers Public Charter School for its Showcase of Student Learning to observe the fall expeditions. I was extremely fortunate to be joined last Tuesday evening by Jessica Wodatch who is one of the school’s founders and its dynamic executive director. She steered me directly over to the Pre-Kindergarten 4 presentation. I’m so fortunate that she did.
I’ve learned over the years that expeditions share many of the characteristics of the Lean Six Sigma process improvement methodology. A team starts with a problem statement or a big idea and then evaluates the issue being studied. Next a solution is created and a communication strategy around it is put into place. Finally, the solution is tested to determine if it is being sustained or whether further enhancements need to be done. Of course, these are skills that are transferable to almost any business setting.
The question posed to these scholars was offered by Maggie Bello, the elementary school principal. On a well-produced IMovie she demonstrated a typical lunch she prepares for her children before they go off to school. But Ms. Bello is concerned that these meals are not well-balanced and perhaps are unhealthy. She asked the class for assistance in improving her food choices with ingredients that can be quickly assembled.
It was then off to the races for these highly energetic students. They learned about food groups including the specific items that fell into each category along with their nutritional value. The expedition included two field trips, one to Rockland’s Farms and another to Harris Teeter, to gain knowledge about food production. The walls of the classroom were filled with student reports on what they had discovered on these adventures. The classroom education and first hand experiences led the kids to understand which foods are most beneficial to be consumed in specific recommended quantities.
The culmination of the expedition was individual student recipe books containing healthy meals that Ms. Bello could prepare for her children complete with the ingredients and their quantities. Each also included pictures from various activities centered on their work. But I want to slow down for a minute in my narrative of the event.
Much of the explanation of the project was done through the video. But then it was time for the students to address the overflow crowd. Here is where my eyes began to tear. Small groups of the 22 assembled students alternated jumping to their feet as individual kids took turns explaining aspects of the expedition. It is a magical mystery to me how four year olds can accomplish this task, but when I looked to Ms. Wodatch for some kind of explanation I believe that I saw the same droplets of water traveling down her cheeks.
We then moved on to a first grade class whose big idea was to raise money to purchase supplies that were often in short supply such as glue sticks, glitter, and flat Lego pieces. The students started their presentation singing their company’s theme song while each of them wore hats and billboards across their chests advertising their wares. The melody still fills my head to this day.
While these pupils considered completing various activities to raise money such as helping people cross the street, cleaning, and walking dogs, the group settled on creating interesting snacks that could then be sold to other members of the student body. The healthy treat they chose was popcorn with the choice of butter or salt.
As part of this expedition students received a comprehensive exposure to the field of economics. Investors were enlisted to provide start-up funding for creating Fantastic Snacks. Calculations were made for estimating profits based upon various price points. Market surveys were done to determine the popularity of creating a red colored version. Two bar graphs provided a visual display of the result.
As with the Kindergarteners a communication plan was put into place. Each time the students offered their popcorn for sale the quantity bought went up dramatically. Investors eventually received a five percent return on their money. Now the big decision comes as to what to do with all the cash. The class came up with four options: save the money, donate it to a worthwhile cause, purchase supplies, or invest it back into the business. I made Ms. Wodatch promise to call me when a final decision had been made.
We then visited some of the older students. One aspect common to all of the expeditions stood out. Students are taught to ask a lot of questions about the subject they are studying. Many of the inquiries are meant to support a particular point of view, but others are directly aimed at highlighting the opposite side of an issue. It reminded me of the discussion of the PISA test in Amanda Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, an international examination that evaluates the ability of students to reason. As my time at Two Rivers concluded I was completely convinced that if these scholars took that evaluation they would score off the charts.