• Fifth Grade Launches Year with "We The Kids" PBL Unit

    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 9/14/2017

    Our fifth grade students learned a tremendous amount about our United States Constitution and local governance as a result of their "We the Kids" Project Based Learning Unit. Through authentic, real-world research and sustained inquiry, students learned how laws are developed, interpreted and enforced. A special component of the PBL Unit was presentations and interviews with local community members such as MPCSD Superintendent Erik Burmeister, MPCSD Board Member Stacey Jones, Judge Elaine Hammond, and the Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith. Students even enjoyed a field trip to City Hall last week and walked back to the Upper Campus!


    With the US Constitution as a guide, fifth graders held constitutional conventions with their class to develop their own Class Constitutions. It was a proud moment on Friday as they presented their constitutions to Laurel students, staff and parents. Well done fifth grade teachers and students! Thanks for leading the way with Project Based Learning this year!

    ​Best to you and yours!​


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  • Angel Island Immigration Simulation - A Fourth Grade PBL Experience

    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 1/15/2017

    Many parents ask me about our school's educational model of Project Based Learning and want to hear about the Project Based Learning (PBL) happening in our classrooms. The third week of each month I will shine a spotlight on the powerful teaching and learning occurring with our implementation of PBL. Last month I shared how public products are a core component of Project Based Learning Units. This week, I could not pass up the chance to write about the authentic learning happening in two fourth grade classes as the students study Chinese immigration in the early 1900s. Authenticity is another key design element in any Project Based Learning Unit.


    pbl enthusiasm


    A few weeks ago, fourth graders from Mrs. Bower's and Mrs. Yamada's classes walked into transformed classrooms filled with burning incense, Chinese carpets, lots of Chinese clothes and homewares. Students were transported to China in the early 1900s! Upon arrival, each student received a scroll with a Chinese name and assumed the identity of one Chinese immigrant who actually came through Angel Island. Students learned about their new identity by reading a letter based on a real immigrant story from the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation website.

    Since then, students have had several interactive simulations to understand more about Chinese immigration to the United States in the 1900s. They packed a virtual suitcase, crowded together to feel the conditions on trans-Pacific boats and were even "interrogated" at Angel Island in a language they could not understand. Each student is drawing on these experiences, plus learning about the historical context in the 1900s, as they write in a journal and craft a historical fiction story featuring a Chinese immigrant.

    There is no doubt that this Immigration unit exemplifies authentic, "real-world" learning. Students are highly motivated since the authenticity speaks to students' cultures, identities and brings history to life! Ask a fourth grader from either Mrs. Yamada's or Mrs. Bower's classes about their Chinese immigrant identity and their experience immigrating through Angel Island! Believe me - they will amaze you with their level of empathy and the connections they make between history and modern day.


    Until Next Time,

    Laurel School Assistant Principal
    Laurel School is on Twitter @LaurelMPCSD


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  • Kindergarteners Make a Positive Impact in our Community with PBL

    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 12/18/2016




    Take a visit to our kindergarten yard and you will see some student-created signs! These signs are just a few of the public products created by our kindergarteners during a recent Project Based Learning (PBL) Unit. In this unit, students worked with their peers to figure out how they can make a positive impact in our Laurel School community. Our youngest students interviewed a kindergarten aide, the custodian, the school nurse and our technology coach to identify real problems in our community. Following their investigation, students developed solutions and chose how to share them in public products ranging from books, to posters and videos. It was a joy to visit classes and see how the authenticity of this PBL Unit increased student engagement in learning. Plus, by creating videos, books and posters to share with others, the students were so motivated to “do their best” and create high quality work! The incorporation of a public product is just one of the essential project design elements in a PBL unit. We are seeing firsthand how public products elevate student learning.


    -For more information about Project Based Learning at Laurel, be sure to check out the Spotlight on the Squirrels the third Sunday of the month. We are dedicating at least one post a month to highlighting our educational model of PBL and sharing the powerful learning that emerges.

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    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 10/7/2016

    Viola exploration

    I'm proud to share that our Laurel fourth grade students are engaged in a newly designed instrument exploration and selection process that lasts from September to December. Our music teacher team, composed of Rachel Knight, Piper Redman and Rachel Bergeron, redesigned our fourth grade music program to provide more time for students to learn about the instrumental music offerings we feature in our Laurel band and orchestra classes. The purpose of this "Passport to Instrumental Music" is to support students in making more thoughtful and informed decisions before they select an instrument to study with greater interest for the remainder of fourth grade.

    Rachel Knight (Band teacher) and Piper Redman (Strings teacher) are devoting at least three class periods to each musical instrument. In these sessions, students learn how to hold and play a featured instrument. Students also reflect and document their experience playing the instrument, holding it and carrying it. Classes already covered the trumpet and are starting to focus on the viola. In mid-December, students will draw from their range of experiences and their "Passport to Instrumental Music" reflections to choose between the trumpet, viola, flute, cello, trombone, clarinet or violin. We are fortunate that our fourth graders are having such an enriching and exploratory musical instrument experience! Many thanks to Rachel Knight and Piper Redman!

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    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 6/5/2016 5:00:00 AM

    What a joy for our students, staff and families to gather together for our annual Spring Fling, Open House and Art Show on Thursday. A personal highlight was the musical performance on the plaza with our students linking arms, singing and creating a big "Laurel hug." As I looked around the plaza, I felt proud of our work to foster a positive and healthy school climate at Laurel. I'm proud of how our students and staff show kindness, acceptance and respect. This doesn't happen magically! On a daily basis and "behind the scenes," one of the ways our staff builds community is through our work with Restorative Practices.

    Laurel School Hug

    All throughout the year, our staff uses Restorative Practices to cultivate a culture of belonging. Teachers facilitate "community circles" and class meetings to give each student a voice - so each classmate is seen, heard, and respected. Our staff also uses Restorative Practices to help students learn from their mistakes.


    With Spring in full force, our students are showing growth in many ways. It is not unusual, as our children are growing and changing, for them to "push boundaries." We find a specific set of Restorative Questions valuable. These Restorative Questions guide debrief conversations with students so they reflect on their choices, build empathy for others, learn how to repair relationships and how to "make things right."


    We thought that we would pass them along to our families too!


    Restorative Questions

    To respond to challenging behavior
    1. What happened?
    2. What were you thinking of at the time?
    3. What have you thought about since?
    4. Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
    5. What do you think you need to do to make things right?


    To help those harmed by others' actions
    1. What did you think when you realized what had happened?
    2. What impact has this incident had on you and others?
    3. What has been the hardest thing for you?
    4. What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

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    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 5/22/2016 5:00:00 AM


    Spirit Assembly

    On Thursday afternoon our whole school gathered for a Spirit Assembly to build excitement for the upcoming MPAEF SchoolHouse Rocks 5k Run. Staff members arrived donning their athletic gear and tennis shoes. Students were sporting new "Schoolhouse Rocks" bracelets and bright smiles too. It was a wonderful feeling to bring our entire school together and see the plaza filled with all of our students and staff. During the assembly, members of our "Girls on the Run" team led the students and staff in cheers for Laurel. Our fourth grade members of "Girls on the Run" have had about twenty practices to train specifically for the 5K event. A highlight of the assembly was when a large group of teachers and staff members flooded the stage to dance and show their Laurel spirit! The students loved seeing their teachers dancing and doing a conga line! We definitely have a lot of spirit (and fun) at Laurel!


    We would like to invite all Laurel families to join us on Sunday, May 22nd for our MPAEF Schoolhouse Rocks 5K Run. This event is an important fundraiser for our Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation. And don't worry, as one of our kindergarteners said, "You can run, walk or even skip!" Registration is online at this link. http://mpaef.org/schoolhouse-rocks-5k


    Hope to see you there! 

    Ellen Signature

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    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 5/8/2016

    Hello Laurel families,

    Our Walk and Wheel to School Day, our Wax Museum presentations in third grade and our first grade Globetrotters experience brought many visitors to Laurel School this week! We love to have parents and guests participate in the teaching and learning here at Laurel. It is delightful to see our students' faces light up when parents and families attend a school performance, classroom celebration or a special event.


    Laurel School Visitor Pass

    As a quick reminder, please remember that ALL visitors to Laurel MUST check in to our front office and pick up a visitor badge. To ensure the safety of all students and staff, it is important for us to be able to identify all visitors on school grounds.


    A quick glance at our calendar reveals a variety of events to culminate the 2015-2016 school year. Believe it or not, we only have about six weeks of school left! We look forward to seeing you on campus. We appreciate your support and we thank you for taking the extra time to sign in and grab a visitor badge.


    Many thanks,

    Ellen Signature


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    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 5/1/2016

    Our Laurel Student Council

    One of the exciting parts of becoming a kindergarten through fifth grade school is providing new opportunities for student participation within our school community. Maria Clemo, one of our fourth grade teachers, is leading our newly formed Student Council. Each third grade and fourth grade class has class representatives who attend regular Student Council meetings. Our Student Council brainstorms ways to keep our school community unified and connected. They are hosting an Earth Day inspired classroom door decorating contest throughout the month of May.


    May the 4th Be With You


    Student Council also organizes our Spirit Days. Our Student Council would like to invite all students to participate in our upcoming Laurel Spirit Day: Wednesday, May 4th. The theme is "May the Fourth Be With You." Star Wars inspired attire is encouraged. (No weapons or light sabers allowed.) You've got to love what these students come up with! Thank you to our Student Council members and Mrs. Clemo for organizing these fun and unifying school events!


    Wednesday, May 4th is also our Walk and Wheel to School Day! We hope you will join us in walking or biking to school that morning.


    Safe Routes to School

    All the best,


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    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 4/24/2016

    During last week’s kindergarten orientation, Linda Creighton and I shared that our involved community is part of what makes Laurel so special. It is powerful when we build on our community’s collective expertise and collaborate to create meaningful learning experiences for our children. I can’t think of a better example of our involved community than our exceptional Steam Fair!


    Pulley and tree activity

    What a tremendous day on Friday! Even in the drizzling rain, the campus was bustling with excitement and energy within workshops focused on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.  Thank you to over XX volunteers for devoting time and energy and facilitating XX dynamic workshops.  A tremendous shout out to our STEAM Fair Committee Chairs Jill Baker and Christine Chan. They both spent countless hours planning and preparing for our Steam Fair. Thank you!


    Here are some quotes from students with their perspective on our Steam Fair this year.


    • At the Steam Fair my favorite thing was Pitch Black Painting because we got to paint a glow in the dark painting! The Steam Fair was fun! - Ava 
    • My favorite was Duct Tape Survivor!!! Because we had to make a container for water with only duct tape. It was sooo fun!!! - Sanaia
    • My favorite activity was the S’more Solar Power. We made marshmallows in a pizza case that turned into an oven. After a while we ate our s’mores. - Aiden
    • My favorite workshop was the Laser Maze. First, they explained all about lasers. Then, they sprayed some stuff on the laser light so we could see it and the laser made a design on the wall.  We had this maze where we had to use mirrors to reflect the laser. It was so cool! - Maggie


    I believe events like our Steam Fair inspire our future generation of inventors, engineers, mathematicians, artists and scientists.


    Thank you to our Laurel School Community!

    Ellen Signature




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    Posted by Ellen Kraska on 4/17/2016


    bike rodeo


    Earlier this week, our fourth grade students enjoyed a fun and informative Bike Rodeo courtesy of the Atherton Police Department. Many thanks to Sergeant Anthony Kockler and School Resource Officer Daniel Larson for organizing and facilitating this bicycle safety event for our students. During the first part of the Bike Rodeo, Sergeant Kockler led a bicycle safety discussion and taught students the proper hand signals when making a left or right hand turn. He also spoke about the importance of wearing a helmet. To make his point, Sergeant Kockler stood from a ten foot ladder and dropped two cantaloupes onto the asphalt, one in a bike helmet and one by itself. The melon protected by the bike helmet remained intact, while the other cantaloupe was damaged and had cracks. Most of all, students enjoyed riding their bike or scooter through a variety of cone patterns. The different courses allowed students to practice slow speed turning movements, stopping and proper hand signaling. The students had a great time during this event.


    We are grateful for our Atherton Police Department and their efforts to keep our students safe. And remember - always wear those helmets!

    Ellen Signature


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