Each year, the Sixth Grade Leadership Class earns money at the Fall Festival and Kids’ Night Out. The proceeds earned at these two events fund an end-of-year gift for the School. As Upper Elementary Division Head Maryellen Berry met with the Class of 2015 to discuss potential gift opportunities and to listen to their thoughts about what the School needs, their thoughtful ideas flowed.
Houston Alford ’15 presented a unique and interesting idea to his peers. He mentioned how much his class loved River Kids in Fifth Grade and how the area in Discovery Woods used for the River Kids program needed updating. It was suggested that this year’s Fifth Grade could design a space in the woods with the help of the Class of 2015’s gift.
The vision of the Class of 2015 launched an exciting venture for Fifth Graders. The project began early in the fall of 2015. Science teacher Becky Maas and math teacher Vicky Eyles used their SMATH (science and math) class time to work on the project with Fifth Graders. Together they led students in design thinking opportunities that incorporate math and science. Designing a learning space for Discovery Woods and Trinity Creek created the perfect platform for engaging work for the students.
Empathy is the first stage of design thinking. One must know and understand what people want and need before launching into a design. So, for the first session of the class, the SMATH teachers asked Huston Alford from the Class of 2015 to visit the current Fifth Graders and share what he and his classmates envisioned for this space.
Equipped with this knowledge, Fifth Graders formed two groups comprised of those who would make decisions to use the space and those who would learn in the space. After brainstorming questions, one group interviewed students about what they would want in Discovery Woods. The results were interesting to say the least, and even included the desire to ride a wolf in the space! The second group created a survey to give to teachers to determine reasons why they currently use Discovery Woods and the impediments to its use. The students learned that faculty wished there was a place to have an academic class in the woods. There was also significant interest in a play place and ‘tools’ to use such as nets, magnifying glasses, and measuring tapes.
Identifying potential sites became the next task in the process. Students walked to Discovery Woods and looked for a space large enough for a classroom of children and teachers – a minimum size of 15x17 feet. The potential sites were marked and measured. Another trip to the sites was needed to identify the positive and negative components of each potential space. Back in the classroom, each person listed one pro and one con for each of the four sites. After thorough analysis of the feedback, a site was selected.
The design process continued as groups were formed, representing the outdoor classroom, the playscape, and the bridge to connect the two areas. Each group sketched and fashioned a model of their design. After several weeks, the students were ready to share their presentations with administrators who served as judges. Listening to the presentations, one could hear passion for their ideas, their thoughtfulness as they incorporated natural elements into their designs, and the desire to create something meaningful. Some groups designed flexible storage, some had researched costs of materials, and others had created playful elements sure to entice student interest.
Projects like this empower learners in myriad ways. The process of designing a Discovery Center for learning, a playscape, and a fun bridge to connect the new spaces results in a rich opportunity that incorporates the ideas of students and provides them with a multitude of opportunities to make decisions. Giving students voice and choice is a hallmark of a Trinity School education. The new spaces are still in development, but with continued thoughtful planning, the Class Gift of 2015 will enable classes well into the future to learn in beautiful spaces designed by students for students.