Mindfulness: Beginning the Day with K

Mindfulness practices are an important part of social and emotional learning at Sea Crest School. To share these different lessons with you, we’re publishing a series of Lower and Middle School blog posts, beginning with Kindergarten.

Sea Crest teachers believe in the importance of mindfulness to reduce anxiety, stress, and reactivity. Rather than operating on “autopilot,” we want our students to live deeply, understand how they’re feeling, and pay careful attention to the world around them.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a state of active, open awareness. It also involves acceptance: attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are “right” or “wrong” in a given moment. Studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces negative emotions, stress, and the body’s susceptibility to illness. Studies also show that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems amongst students, improves their happiness levels, and increases their ability to pay attention. Teachers trained in mindfulness show lower blood pressure, higher levels of happiness, and greater compassion and empathy.

What does mindfulness look like in Kindergarten?

“Mindfulness is about stopping to notice the present moment,” says Kindergarten Teacher Emily Travis. “In Kindergarten, it’s helpful for us to have something concrete to focus on: deep breaths with our hands on our bellies, or listening to hear the end of the song of the singing bowl. It’s all about going slowly and taking a moment to slow down.”

“We work on breathing techniques to calm our minds and bodies,” says Kindergarten Teacher Helen Ortiz. “Every morning, we gather all of the energy in the room and bring our fingertips to our foreheads. We bring all that energy down from our foreheads to our center and take two deep breaths together. It’s amazing how much that calms the students. They know it’s a tool they can use whenever they want, to find their best selves when they feel out of control. I tell them that it’s the hardest thing they’ll learn all year, and they practice at home, too. Some of them have said to their parents: ‘Mom, Dad, you need to center yourself: put your fingertips on your forehead and bring it all the way down to your center.'”

Creativity and Confidence: The All-School Musical

A key component of Sea Crest’s mission is empowering our learners to express creativity. This holds true for our core classes as well as our enrichment programs, and in each subject we focus on student-centered learning and curricular innovation.

For the performing arts, student-centered learning means that children are integrally involved in every aspect of the All-School Musical. Each student, from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, is part of either the cast or the crew for the production. In recent years, Middle School students have also taken on the role of scriptwriters, and they storyboard and write the Musical as part of a “Page to Stage” Explorations course. Middle Schoolers also learn the foundations of technical theater in a “Behind the Scenes” Exploration.

“We believe in finding and implementing the most innovative and creative ways to teach and learn with children at Sea Crest, and I think we get better at this endeavor every year,” says Spanish Teacher Michaela O’Connor, who led the backstage crew for the Musical. “Our core beliefs in hands-on inquiry, compassion, and character education, and in becoming more and more innovative, are what sets us apart from other schools.”

“This experiential learning opportunity gives students a chance to showcase skills and concepts they have learned in Drama and Music classes,” says Music Teacher Cathy Bleecker. “They develop perseverance, teamwork, and confidence through this wonderful tradition.”

“It is an amazing joy to watch students from all grades work together to create a work of art,” agrees Drama Teacher Michael Lederman.

The Musical involves the wider community as well. We partner with the Coastal Repertory Theatre to provide an authentic theater experience for students, and our families volunteer to coordinate costumes, supervise the green room, and lend their expertise. Each year – due to the number of people involved and the quality of the production – tickets sell out for every performance.

Last year’s Eighth Graders reported that the All-School Musical would be the experience they would remember most about their time at Sea Crest. It conveys our school’s culture and spirit, bringing the community together to express how much we value the arts as part of a well-rounded education. The confidence and poise students gain from the experience ensures that they not only learn to express creativity, but also learn to lead with courage.

“Education in the arts is just as important as education in Math, Science, or English,” says Sea Crest alumna Amanda Odasz. “Theater was where I learned about teamwork and valuing the people around me and what they have to offer. It was where I found a sense of family.”

“I got really close with a lot of people through the theater experience,” says Lucas Gust, who graduated from Sea Crest in 2007. “And I’m still friends with them today.”

To watch highlights from the 2016 Musical, visit vimeo.com/seacrestschool/mavericks.

To view a short film about Sea Crest’s All-School Musical, please click here.


Fourth Graders Team Up with Wildlife Associates to Design Safer Wind Turbines

As part of their recent unit on California raptors, Fourth Grade students investigated the impact of wind farms on birds’ ability to hunt, migrate, and survive.

“Over the course of three weeks, students learned about different California habitats, the species that live there, and how to better protect birds of prey,” said Fourth Grade Teacher Tyler Elliott. “Raptors are crucial to the diversity and sustainability of many ecosystems across the country. We want our students to understand humanity’s connection to other species and how we can preserve vital ecosystems, both locally and abroad.”

Wildlife AssociatesOne exciting aspect of this unit was the classes’ collaboration with Wildlife Associates, a 120-acre animal sanctuary in Half Moon Bay. A team of wildlife specialists came to Sea Crest with live birds of prey and worked with students in small groups to help teach them about raptors, conservation, and wind turbines.

“I was so impressed with the Sea Crest Fourth Graders,” said Michele Durant, Programs Manager at Wildlife Associates. “They embraced the opportunity to help local wildlife and eagerly accepted the challenge of learning to think like biologists and engineers.”

Wildlife AssociatesFourth Graders learned how hawks help manage prey populations to keep nature in balance, and they explored the challenges facing scientists as they work to maintain both wildlife and sustainable energy solutions.

Next, our students spent two weeks designing their own solutions to help wildlife and the wind power industry to better coexist. On the final day, representatives from Wildlife Associates returned to hear the presentations.

Students shared ideas such as…

  • Placing wire cages over wind turbines to let in wind but keep out birds;
  • Using sensors or lasers to detect birds before they get too close to a turbine, causing the turbine to stop spinning;
  • Projecting images and sounds of predators to scare birds away from turbine blades.

Wildlife Associates“These students were not only highly engaged on an academic level, but their kindness and concern towards the birds clearly motivated them,” said Ms. Durant. “It was so rewarding to see their excitement about having a chance to share their presentations. They demonstrated their creativity and compassion as well as their comprehension of the facts and curriculum of this unit.”

“They have built a sense of empathy and understanding about how we coexist with our environment, and they are making connections to how our lessons relate to alternative energies,” said Mr. Elliott.

Since many of the raptors the classes studied are native to our area, students have already been able to apply what they learned to real-life situations.

Wildlife Associates“One day after school, as I was closing up my room, three students came flying down the hall yelling, ‘Mr. Elliott, Mr. Elliott, come look! There’s a red-tailed hawk outside!’ There was a line of about 25 kids along the perimeter of the field, staring at what looked like a big chicken in the middle of the grass. When I walked closer, I saw it was a beautiful male hawk standing talon-deep in a puddle, sipping and arranging feathers, looking at us as we looked at him. Suddenly, he took off with two flaps, talons out, to the top of a 50-foot tree. The Fourth Graders spent the afternoon teaching all of the other students on the field about red-tailed hawks. I know they will never forget this experience.”


Watch a video clip of the Fourth Graders’ presentations:


Coding and Computer Science at Sea Crest

Our Computer Science program extends far beyond one week of Hour of Code. In fact, we use Hour of Code as a kickoff to our second trimester Unit of Coding for the Lower School classes. In Middle School, we continue to offer a variety of Computer Science Explorations, including a full-year Computer Science class that allows students to dive deeply into Javascript.

We have been offering Computer Science opportunities for more than a decade. In the early years, Comp Sci was limited to Middle School Coding Electives, which focused on Scratch, Karel the Robot, Alice, Greenfoot, and HTML. In 2012, we expanded our program to begin in Second Grade, using online resources and Pro-Bot programmable floor robots. By the time the first Hour of Code event was held in 2013, there were many more offerings tailored for younger students, such as Kodable and other iPad-based apps that taught programming basics. We now offer Computer Science from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade and are in the process of integrating physical computing using ProBots, Makey Makeys, WeDo Robotics, OzoBots, and Arduino.

So why do we teach all students Computer Science? Does everyone need to be a programmer when they grow up? The answer is that Computer Science can apply to every field: our students learn logic, problem-solving, and design skills. They take complex ideas and break them down into smaller parts. They work collaboratively and with persistence in the face of frustration. The creative aspects of coding are also often overlooked: creating interactive stories, animations, games, and websites. Coding, in fact, is all about turning ideas into reality.

“I like the terms ‘hard fun’ or ‘healthy struggle’ to describe some of the learning processes associated with programming,” says Technology Integration Specialist Ellyn Kohrs. “One of my students in the Full Year Programming Exploration recently said, ‘It is very fun and it makes me think hard.'”


Happy Thanksgiving from Sea Crest School!

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Sea Crest School!
Click here to watch a video greeting from our students.

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