October 12, 2015

posted Feb 22, 2016, 3:42 PM by PFC Webmaster   [ updated Feb 22, 2016, 3:45 PM ]

Happy Autumn, Walnut Acres Parents!

I headed out to yard duty last month and discovered a large group of 50 or 60

students milling around in a tight group. If I had been on a high school campus I

would have been anxious that something untoward was happening. Since it was

our angels, I wasn't really worried, but concerned enough to double my pace

toward the throng. As I got closer, I could see that the tight group was actually a

series of small student clusters with heads together that seemed to shift

consistently creating new small random groups. I could also see that the students

had pencils and paper and seemed to be poring over and sharing what looked to

be drawings.

I was completely intrigued and as I approached the group, I was delighted to

realize that the children had opted to begin work on an assignment that had been

presented to them just before recess. The 3rd grade teachers had shown a video

of "Cain's Arcade" and tasked the students to develop their own arcade game.

They had further explained that students were invited to bring their game to

school to create a full-blown arcade in the MUR to which our youngest

students would be invited.

The students I saw were delighted with the plan and were spending their recess

jotting their designs, presenting their ideas to peers, and collecting input. It was

heart-warming to witness many of our 6 Cs (critical and creative thinking,

collaboration, communication, global citizenship, and content mastery) in play

during this student-created learning experience!

Out of the students' efforts our Annual Third Grade Arcade Day was born. It

was a rousing success, starring young entrepreneurs who proudly shared their

games with one another and awed kindergarten game players. The third graders

felt empowered by their creative achievement, excited by their contribution to

creating a funhouse that filled the entire MUR, and highly motivated to continue

their learning. In this case, that meant expanding their experience with levers and

pulleys to learn about simple machines, as well as an analysis of their teamwork.

You see, the experience was designed by the teachers to provide trouble-shooting

and problem-solving opportunities for the young creators. Games broke or failed to

work as their creators intended and students had to revamp their game or fix it in

real time. That experience was fodder for students to reflect on what didn't work

and realize the power of failure as a stepping stone to success. Students also

discussed the balance of fun and challenge as they reviewed their Arcade Day. The

memories of the experience and the analysis of the event now become potential

topics for writing or reading...as students choose.

The Arcade event exemplifies the kind of student choice and application that is

more and more frequently infused into our Walnut Acres learning environment. We

want students to take ownership for their own learning, and to succeed in

that endeavor we have to motivate our learners, help them discover

meaning in their instructional goals, and get them actively involved in

sense-making. To that end, students are analyzing progress toward selfdeveloped

reading goals. They are assessing their narrative pieces and

deciding how to implement writing strategies. They are participating in

Math Talks to share insights and strategies with peers. Our teachers often

provide strategy lessons to students and then serve as facilitators to

support student thinking.

As our 21st century transformation continues, our Innovation Team is

discussing the possibility of designing and building a new kind of learning

space on our site. Our "Colab" would be a flexible, multi-media, library

and large/small room space that could be adapted by teachers and

students to serve a multitude of needs. Our concept is to create a space in

which students could move as needed to research, build, design, compute, read,

collaborate and analyze in a flowing, task-based manner that is simply not possible

in our current configuration of small classrooms filled with students. If you are

interested in helping to explore our Colab dream, you are welcome to join

us at our next meeting on 10/27 at 3:00 p.m. in A-1. We have been given

permission by the district to get a feasibility study for a new building. If you would

like to help us plan and organize financially to raise money from corporations and

businesses that understand the value of our plan, we would appreciate your


For now, our work to foster a value of empowered, life-long learning continues in

our traditional setting. We appreciate the ongoing support of our dynamic and

dedicated parents and we thank our feeder pattern community for working with us.

I particularly want to note appreciation for the 14 enthusiastic Northgate

high school students who are with us for about an hour four days a week us to

support learning at Walnut Acres as they explore their passion to join the teaching


I also want to thank parents who are supporting PEAK (Partnership for

Educational Achievement K-12) through their various fundraising events for our

Northgate feeder pattern schools. We make good use of the monies that come

from PEAK to Walnut Acres each year and we are grateful for their support.

Finally, kudos to YOU: our amazing Walnut Acres Parents. Thanks for the

many diverse roles you play. To the wonderful folks who are coordinating our

annual Fall Walnut Acres events, our Ice Cream Social, the recent Community

Service Day, our upcoming Red Ribbon Week and Carnival, and our gift wrap

fundraiser, you are appreciated. To those who are primed to support our work in

the classroom as Art Awareness and PEP volunteers and those awesome, behindthe-

scene Room Parents and e-News coordinators, your communication and

collaboration skills are pivotal, thank you. Finally, to those who serve on teams

and committees, such as SSC, PFC Board, Safety, and Innovation, your leadership

is crucial and your work is phenomenal. You are prized.

Speaking of SSC, I am sending home a ballot to vote on one new member to

our SSC. Currently, our PFC president is an SSC member, and as she is kept very

busy with many other PFC-related activities, we are providing a ballot to you to

vote on a new SSC member. Please return your ballot by Friday, 10/16.

One more upcoming change for you, hot off the press-teachers would like to try

inviting all students to wear costumes on 10/30 for a morning Halloween

parade and Sing-out. More details of guidelines and plans will follow. Shhh,

please, the teachers haven't told the children yet.

Remember that if you have questions about your child's progress, contact your

child's teacher and know that my door is open to you, as well. There will always

be challenges as we grow and learn together, but if we tackle problems

collaboratively, we will be modeling the process for our children and

supporting them to become the best they can be! As Helen Keller reminded

us many years ago, "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much!"


Colleen Dowd

Lucky principal

Walnut Acres Elementary, 180 Cerezo Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598

PFC Webmaster,
Feb 22, 2016, 3:42 PM