Learning by Design: MCS Staff Experiences a Bit of Student Life at the Farm
Editor’s Note: On Friday, October 28, 2016, Manhattan Country School faculty and staff traveled to the MCS Farm for their first Staff Workshop Day of the school year. While there, they had the chance to participate in some of the activities MCS students experience during their farm trips, including cooking, gardening, cider making, chopping wood and creating textiles. In the following piece, MariaTere Tapias-Avery, the Lower School Spanish teacher, describes the planning of the textile activity in which some staff members took part.
Jump Rope Making Workshop
This staff workshop developed out of a three-way collaboration: Lynn, the farm textiles teacher; Aimee, the farm curriculum and outreach coordinator; and myself, the Lower School Spanish language and culture teacher. It highlights some of the amazing work happening at the Farm, collaboration amongst city and farm teachers, and the work we did in Backward Design a few years ago. The story provides insight to the kind of thinking that lies behind lesson and curriculum planning at Manhattan Country School.
Backward Design and Experiential Learning
During textiles class at the Farm, eight- and nine-year-olds are introduced to the concept of ply and how to make rope. I’m lucky enough to accompany this group every year in the fall. As a result, the farm has become an integral part of my 8-9s’ curriculum. The idea for a jump rope making workshop grew out of witnessing children’s engagement and work in textiles class, and a conversation that followed. I asked Lynn if these ropes children were making, made from wool yarn produced by the sheep at our farm, would make sturdy jump ropes.
Through their work and play while living at the Farm, students experience and gain an enduring understanding of the interdependence that exists between humans and the environment. Questions emerged about the allocation of natural resources. Was using farm wool to make jump ropes a sustainable practice? Was the wool better allocated for other purposes, such as weaving? Was it the right material for this purpose? Would it last and make a good jump rope? Lynn said, “Of course!” Lynn is a master textiles artist and teacher. She has studied and traveled extensively, and has been teaching textiles for more than 30 years at the Farm. As class ended, Aimee, Lynn and I began brainstorming ideas for the textiles learning experience for Staff Workshop Day.
The Three Phases of Backward Design
Identify Desired Results
First, what were our goals? What would be meaningful for staff to know, understand and be able to do? Also, what would be engaging, fun and useful for teachers? This is the first step in backward design. We identified our desired results: making jump ropes. What will staff hear, read, view and explore in the textiles classroom? There will be unprocessed wool, stories and books. Teachers will experience carding and spinning wool with corkscrews and paper clips, a tool that Lynn built and used with students to introduce ply.
Determine Acceptable Evidence
How will we know if students are starting to master the knowledge and skills we want them to gain. What will we accept as evidence that students are making progress toward the learning goals of the workshop? How will we know if they are getting it? We will do this through observation, asking questions, watching them work and our final result—our jump ropes.
Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction
Staff began by examining raw wool, feeling for lanolin. Then, they worked with a partner to experience spinning and converting wool to yarn. Participants will have created a single ply yarn. Next, they began examining balls of yarn of various plies and worked together to identify the number of plies in each. Next, participants chose yarn to make their jump ropes using a manual rope-making machine. Finally, we tested out the jump ropes, while singing songs in English and Spanish. This is an example of experiential learning through backward design.
For further reading, refer to Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.