Every School Every Friday

The first week students returned from Spring Break they were provided a wonderful fine arts experience.  Ms. Kathleen Hurley, an instructor at Grinnell College, brought Hurley and Dancers to the Downtown School for an all-day dance residency on the MOMIX theme.

Legendary choreographer Moses Pendleton combines athletic dance, riveting music, outrageous costumes, inventive props, and pure talent to create an unforgettable multimedia experience. Botanica transports you to a fantasy world of surreal images and childlike wonder brought to life by a cast of dancer-illusionists. Set to an eclectic score that ranges from birdsong to Vivaldi, Botanica reveals nature’s changing imagery in MOMIX’s signature illusionary style.

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Recently, all of our 9/10 classrooms visited with Ms. Kacia Cain’s Central Campus Anatomy Lab. Led by the Central Campus high school mentors, the students participated in a hands-on dissection of pigs’ hearts in exploration of the human body study. The Downtown School students learned many things; however, the Central Campus students were able to really solidify their understanding by being in the role of the teacher!  Nothing beats a hand-on experience!

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Rachelle Gerstel’s learning group had a successful culminating event on rocks.  Parents were also invited back to the class where they shared their art and writing.  Students are learning to write acrostic, cinquain, and haiku poetry.

Josie Burg’s and Jess Capper’s learning groups each had culminating events about rocks.  Josie Burg’s learning group represented their learning by creating a television show called, “Talk Rock” and Jess Capper’s learning group represented their learning by creating a movie.  The students are publishing biographies of friend’s in their learning groups.

Lauren Miller’s and Erika Buckner’s learning groups are representing and preparing for their culminating event on rocks after spring break.  They had a guest speaker from Polk County Conservation come to speak to the students about rocks.  Jeff Kerns also visited the classroom to talk to the students about geodes.

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The 5/6 year old students at the Downtown School spent the end of February preparing poems to read at Poetry Night on February 28th. The students practiced reading the poems with expression before performing them in front of an audience of peers and parents.

Mr. Jeffery Kerns’ and Mrs. Barbara Liese’s students are currently using watercolors during their art time. The students are working on various watercolor washes and other techniques. This group of learners is also studying teeth. The students visited a dentist’s office on March  4th to learn more about a dentist’s job and a dentist’s tools as well as how to best care for your teeth.

Mrs. Anne Booth’s and Mrs. Chris Mathews’ students have just begun their study of pets. The students have learned what a pet is and what makes an animal a pet or not a pet. The students will choose a pet to research and will write a book all about the care for that particular pet.

Mrs. Jennifer Jones’ and Mrs. Michelle Ludwig’s students have had three parents come in to teach various art lessons to the students. It has been an enjoyable experience for them all.

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Students, parents and staff members had a heart healthy start to the day on Friday, February 1.  The All School Sing was also the kick-off to the Iowa Heart Association’s Hoops for Heart Campaign.  Students collected more than $1,100 for the American Heart Association.  More importantly, they learned about heart healthy things they can do at school and at home.

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Downtown School students had student-led conferences on February 6th and 7th. The students put artifacts in their portfolios and then shared these with their family to demonstrate the learning that has occurred since the October conference. Students and families enjoy participating in conferences together. After conferences students and staff enjoyed intercession. Classes resumed on February 19th and everyone returned rested, excited to see each other and excited to continue learning.

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All of the 7/8/9 year old students are currently studying rocks. Mrs. Lauren Miller’s and Mrs. Erika Buckner’s learning groups are in the beginning stages of this project. Students started by brainstorming a web of things they knew about the rock cycle, landforms, erosion, types of rocks, and soil. They also developed questions they had about those different categories as an introduction. They had a guest speaker from Polk County Conservation visit and share information about the rock cycle.

Mrs. Josie Burg’s, Ms. Jessica Capper’s, and Mrs. Rachelle Gerstel’s learning groups are wrapping up their study of rocks. Over the last few weeks they’ve had several experts in to help them learn about rocks; including a guest speaker from the Science Center, as well as the Downtown School’s own Mr. Jeffery Kerns who went geode hunting and brought in geodes for all students to crack open. They have now been working on creating projects that can teach others about the things they’ve learned.

The Downtown School had student led conferences on February 6th and 7th. Students had the opportunity to share their portfolios with their families, as well as discuss their accomplishments and goals.

The 9/10 year old students are excited about their new project topic, the human body.  Each classroom used a different entry event to get the students thinking about how their body works, what each body system does, and how the systems work together.  Students have already learned how to take their pulse rate and compare a resting heart rate with an exercising heart rate.  Other students worked cooperatively to use paper copies of bones to create “Mr. Bones.”  Some of these skeletons looked goofy until the students recognized how the bones in our arms and legs are more similar than they realized. Throughout this project, the students will have many opportunities to engage in hands on learning, to conduct their own science experiments, and research and represent their learning about “An Amazing Machine,” our human body.

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Jennifer Jones’ and Michelle Ludwig’s learning groups had the opportunity to make a sculpture, emulating the Nomad sculpture from the Papa John Sculpture Park.  A classroom parent, who is also an artist, used the sculpture to lead an art lesson.   Students made a block letter of their initials, cut them out, painted them with watercolors, and then they were wired the letters onto an egg sculpture made by the classroom parent. The sculpture is kept inside of the classroom and each day different students are able to do some of their learning inside of the sculpture.  They had so much fun making this sculpture and love getting to use it every day.

Chris Mathews’ and Anne Booth’s learning groups have been learning about wants, needs, goods, services, consumers and producers. They used nonfiction books to learn about these topics and then did various writing activities to show their understanding. They wrapped up this study by visiting Dahl’s grocery store and going on a scavenger hunt looking for wants, needs, goods, services, consumers and producers.

Barb Leise’s and Jeff Kerns’ learning groups have been studying teeth.  They have had guest speakers come from Central Iowa Orthodontic and the school nurse Jean Smith come to speak.  Students have been making representations and writing about the things they have learned.  Families will be invited to come in and see the presentation about teeth later in March.

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Mrs. Erika Buckner’s and Mrs. Laruen Miller’s learning groups have welcomed numerous experts into their classroom to share about their roles in our community. Now the students are busy representing all of that learning and are looking forward to sharing their information with parents towards the end of January. Mrs. Josie Burg’s, Ms. Jessica Capper’s and Mrs. Rachelle Gerstel’s learning groups are beginning to experiment with rocks to help them determine the difference between rocks and minerals. They also invited Joe from the Science Center in to share about the rock cycle and the hardness of rocks!

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During the last week before our Winter Recess the children from the Downtown School participated in our first all-school book swap.  In addition to the book swap, music programs and All School Sing, many of our children invited their parents to school for culminating activities.  During the culminating activities children had an opportunity to share their learning about their most recent project.

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All of the students in the 9/10 year old classrooms enjoyed learning about our government and presenting their learning to parents and guests.  Each classroom welcomed different experts from our community to help the students understand some of the big ideas associated with living in an American Democracy.  For example, we invited a State Senator to teach us about Congress and the roles associated with representing constituents.  We Skyped with Governor Branstad and the students had the opportunity to ask him some questions.  Two learning groups welcomed a former Downtown School student to the classroom on a weekly basis to help the students learn about debating and the importance of using persuasive tactics to convey an opinion.  In addition to holding a mock election on Election Day, the students represented American symbols and documents, branches of government and the system of checks and balances.  Some classrooms represented different events from our history that directly impact our government still today.  We hope this project will leaving a lasting impression and the students will be able to knowledgably participate in civic events.

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Students in the 7/8 year old groups at the Downtown School have been highly engaged in their current project topics.

Students in Mrs. Lauren Miller’s and Mrs. Erika Buckner’s groups are concluding their project on trees. They invited families in to learn about different types of trees, the parts of a tree, and how trees grow and change. Their next project topic is communities. Through field work and research, students will begin to learn about important people in our community.

Students in Ms. Jessica Capper’s, Mrs. Josie Burg’s, and Mrs. Rachelle Gerstel’s learning groups are finishing their project on maps. Mrs. Burg’s and Ms. Capper’s groups invited families in to use maps to locate different places around the school. Students also taught their families how to use different types of maps and why some maps are more useful for different purposes than others. Mrs. Gerstel’s group has been applying their knowledge to create Gingerbread Villages that showcase different parts of a community.

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Mrs. Christine Mathews’ and Mrs. Anne Booth’s classes had two dentists, Dr. Glynn and Dr. Booth, come and visit to help them learn about teeth. The students represented their learning about teeth and were excited to share this information with families at a culminating event on December 7th.

Mrs. Jennifer Jones’ and Mrs. Michelle Ludwig’s classes had a visit from Dr. Glynn to help them learn about teeth.  Both classes also walked to a local Downtown Dentist, Dr. Burd to learn more about teeth and how to care for them.  Students represented their learning and shared the information with students from Edmunds.

Mr. Jeff Kerns’ and Mrs. Barb Leise’s learning groups visited Dahl’s, La Tapatia, and New Oriental Foods while studying grocery stores.  The students invited parents to the room to show what they learned during their grocery store project.

All the 5/6 year old classes are excited to share winter songs with families during a concert on December 12th in the Central Campus Auditorium.

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At the November PTA meeting the Project Based Learning (PBL) Professional Learning Community (PLC) shared the many ways in which teachers and students learn and demonstrate their learning through projects.  Examples of the Project Approach, as well as Project Based Learning through the use of a “driving question” were shared with parents.

The Downtown School PTA continues to support the teachers and the educational program at the Downtown School in a variety of ways.  In addition to the presentation by the teachers, other topics included our new Web Site, Projects and Field Experiences, Poetry Night, Silent Auction, Book Character Day, Original Works, Apparel Sales and Recess Volunteers.

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On Election Day, Tuesday November 6th the Downtown School ran a mock election. The students of Mrs. Teri Arbogast, Ms. Tracey Donovan, Mrs. Jennifer Mann, Mrs. Catherine Badger, and Mrs. Dana Allen worked together to create committees in order to have the best election experience possible. Some of those committees were: scheduling, advertising, voter registration, voter check-in, polling, tabulation, and media.

One of the first duties was to get all of the students registered, so they could vote. One committee scheduled the class voting times to correspond correctly with the classes’ schedule. Another committee put up posters to get out the word about voting. Yet another committee was the pollsters; the pollsters took four people from each classroom to see which candidate had the pre-election popular vote. The layout committee designed the voting space and booths. The media committee reported votes and created an instructional film on how to vote.  Another group was the ballot committee; they created the ballot used during the election. The last committee was the check in committee who checked in the voters and made sure they had their voter identification cards.

After all of these committees worked together, every student in the Downtown School cast their vote. With a landslide victory, our president Barack Obama won 88% to 12% against Mitt Romney. Even though there was no “victory speech”, this memory will stay with these students for years to come.

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Ms. Jessica  Capper’s and Mrs. Josie Burg’s learning groups had two speakers come talk to them about mapping.   They are continuing to make different kinds of maps during their project time.

On November 9th, Mrs. Lauren Miller’s and Mrs. Erika Buckner’s learning groups performed their musical, “Instrument Families of the Symphony Orchestra”.  Parents and families were invited to share in their learning of the instrument families.  Both learning groups have been studying Trees as their project topic and are working on representing their learning.

Mrs. Rachelle Gerstel’s learning group has been studying maps and have been looking at the World Map and globe and comparing the two.  They have been studying how keys can look differently according to the kind of map.  The students created art pieces for the Original Works fundraiser using handprints to create animals and insects.

The 7/8 year old students took a role in a school election by voting for the next president of the United States.  Students had to register to vote and sign their registration cards.  They then watched a video that was made by the 9/10 year olds to learn the directions of voting before making their vote.

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We have been busy at the Downtown School!  All of the 5/6 year old classrooms have started new social studies and health projects.  Team Leise/Kerns is currently studying grocery stores and are having multiple experiences at different grocery stores.  Team Jones/Wheeler and Matthews/Booth are studying teeth and have dentists scheduled to come to visit the classrooms.  All of the 5/6 year old teams presented their learning of apples to their families prior to fall intercession.  It was a celebration for all!

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The Downtown School held student-led conferences on October 10th and 11th. The week following conferences the students and staff enjoyed a week long intercession. School resumed on October 22nd; with many learning groups beginning new project topics. On October 26th the Downtown School staff engaged in professional development about multicultural awareness as well as continuing their education about Project Based Learning.

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The 9/10 year old students have been learning about many of the rights and responsibilities we have as citizens as outlined in the United States Constitution.  The students used a trip to the Capitol Building as an entry event for their current project and had a wonderful tour of the beautiful building.  The docents answered many of our questions and sparked new questions to launch this project.  Some of the classes have been learning about debating and the role this is playing in our upcoming Presidential election.  They have welcomed speakers into their classrooms to share more about elections and how they affect us as a community and as a nation.  These students are looking forward to helping their peers register to vote and holding a mock election at our school.  Other classrooms are conducting in depth research on the Constitution and have welcomed other guests to help them understand the Articles and Amendments.  These students are currently writing their own scripts to creatively teach their peers about the three branches of government.  All of the learning groups are very grateful for the guest speakers and the knowledge they have shared with us during this project.  The students will share their learning with parents and guests upon completion of this project.

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The 7/8 year old groups wrapped up their study of butterflies and insects during the first week of October. Each group invited parents in to see representations of their learning. Now the students are ready to begin their next study. Several groups are studying trees, and took a field trip down to the Capitol grounds to search for cherry blossom trees. The other groups are studying maps. The students in these groups have created a web of information they already know about maps and how they are used.

All of the students at the Downtown School enjoyed student-led conferences October 10th and 11th. Each student created portfolios of their work samples and reflected on what they have learned so far this year. Conferences were followed by a week-long intersession from school.

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During the first two weeks of October, the 5/6 year old students at the Downtown School have been very busy! Students completed their study of Apples. They celebrated the completion of Apples by sharing their learning at a culminating event with their families. They prepared for their student led conferences by choosing artifacts from Writing, Math, Projects, Art, Music and P.E. to share with their families during their conference.

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The Downtown School PTA held the annual Downtown School Picnic on September 25th at Union Park. Families brought their picnic dinners and enjoyed time to play and interact with friends old and new.  The PTA sponsored carousel rides during the picnic and the rocket slide was a big hit as always. Families enjoyed the beautiful weather and time with friends!

Mark your calendar for the annual Barnes and Noble book sale on Saturday, October 6th.  A portion of the proceeds from Downtown School family purchases on that day will benefit the Downtown School.

The next PTA meeting will be held on October 9th at 5:00 p.m. in the Downtown School Library.

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Mrs. Buckner, Ms. Capper, Mrs. Gerstel, and Mrs. Miller’s 7, 8, and 9 year old groups are well into their study of butterflies; while Mrs. Burg’s 7, 8, and 9 year old friends have been busy with their project topic of cicadas. All of the learning groups had a chance to work with Louis from Polk County Conservation on what makes an insect an insect. The butterfly groups have also gone to the Botanical Center and worked with an expert on how to catch butterflies. They even got to tag a monarch! The cicada group took a walk by Gray’s Lake to try to find some different cicadas.

All five learning groups took part in Meals from the Heartland. We had a huge number of family volunteers. This is a favorite tradition of the Downtown School.

All 7, 8, and 9 year old learning groups also took part in the United Way Day of Action. Every third grade student in the district received a copy of the book Good Enough to Eat.

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The Downtown School has had a fun first few weeks back to school.  The students came back to school on Monday, August 15th and we have been busy ever since!  A highlight of the past weeks was our involvement in Meals from the Heartland. On Friday, August 31st all the students from the Downtown School joined many other volunteers at Hy-Vee Hall to package meals for those less fortunate. The students enjoyed working to help others and had a blast. Thank you to Jennifer Mann for coordinating this fantastic volunteer effort.

The 5, 6 and 7 year old students were excited to come back to school. The classes have been busy learning many things about school. These groups are currently studying apples during project time. They will be learning about how apples are grown and cared for. They took a fabulous trip to Center Grove Apple Orchard on Thursday, September 13th to extend this learning. Now the students will be finding ways to represent their learning so they can teach others.

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On August 31st, the students and staff at the Downtown School traveled to HyVee Hall to take part in Meals From the Heartland.  Around three hundred students and staff, accompanied by 85 chaperoned  worked hard to package 225 boxes of food and raise $742.80 in donations.  The students had the opportunity to measure the ingredients, weigh the packages, seal the bags, and pack the boxes.  After each table completed a box, the students and volunteers shouted “Downtown School.” By the end of each shift, the neighboring tables were cheering and shouting with us!  As always, this was a wonderful experience for all of our students—some even called it the “best day of the year!”