Learning Expeditions at PS1

Field trips at PS1 are an integral part of the learning experience. Our teachers use the rich opportunities afforded us by being an urban school, as well as our access to ocean and mountains and the diverse ecology that exists so close at hand.

Our field trips are actually Learning Expeditions.

The purpose of these trips is to provide students with real-world connections to the curriculum content. From La Plaza de Cultural y Artes to the California Oil Museum to the all-school camping trip, our students are out in the world acquiring and processing information. New research on the power of learning expeditions indicates that enrichment field trips increase critical thinking, motivation to learn, and address multiple learning modes (Neville, 2011). Teachers and students return from these trips rich with anecdotes about connections that the students have made and the thinking that was generated and teachers build on these insights back in the classroom. PS1 Learning Expeditions enrich the curriculum and student learning.

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PS1 and Thematic Curriculum

This blog topic grew out of a conversation with some of the parents in the Youngers’ classes. We were talking about field trips, projects and the general active learning that occurs at PS1. It made me want to share some of the rationale behind PS1’s Integrated Thematic Curriculum. Integrated curriculum describes curriculum that cuts across subject-matter lines focusing on real life problems to help students make connections and deepen their understanding of what they are learning.

The Outer circle of the PS1 Curriculum Values chart is a visual representation of this concept. Imagine yet another circle on the outside containing the academic subjects, music, visual arts, and P.E., creating a framework for this integration.


The concept of Integrated Curriculum and method of teaching started over one hundred years ago with the work of John Dewey and since then it has been supported and promoted by a variety of educational theorists (Drake, 2007). Currently, most significant support for thematic teaching and learning comes from brain research; indicating that learning that is integrated in a thematic way improves and may even accelerate learning (Jensen, 2005).

Here is how it works. We know that the brain organizes new knowledge on the basis of previous experiences and that we develop meaning from the integration of these experiences. The brain processes many things at the same time, and holistic experiences are recalled quickly and easily. In addition, the human brain actively seeks patterns and searches for meaning through these patterns. Learning occurs faster and more thoroughly when it is presented in meaningful contexts, with an experiential component, thus supporting interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Examples of integrated thematic learning abound at PS1.

Here are just a few:

BJ Yellow made their own wooden blocks in the Studio and incorporated them into a number of lessons. This photo shows the “mini-me” self-portrait blocks created by the students in the Studio.


This photo shows an estimation graph. The students were estimating how many blocks it would take to outline their body.


Then the students  “tested their hypothesis” and recorded the number of blocks that they needed.



In the photo below BK Blue students are experimenting with gears. The cards on the table integrate reading, new vocabulary and critical questions. One card reads, “What is a crank?’ Another card has vocabulary words, “ axle, pillar, teeth, gear, base and vertical.”


In this photo the students worked in teams to building a model of various types of land formations and bodies of water.


In HC Olders the students are integrating social studies, (U.S. government), writing, technology, art and design. This photo depicts a storyboard for an election video.


This is a photo of one of the campaign posters.


In this photo the student is recording her research on biospheres for their party’s environmental platform.


I am pleased to be at a school whose mission can be seen in evidence in the daily work of the teachers and students. “Theory to Practice” is a popular buzzword in education and at PS1, it is a reality.







Dear Parents,

Welcome to my blog, Teaching & Learning at PS1 Pluralistic School. Throughout the year I’ll be posting a behind-the-scenes look at PS1’s curriculum and program. I look forward to sharing my insights about the students’ experiences in their classrooms and their school.

This August, before the opening of school, teachers were in their classrooms creating the engaging spaces in which your children are learning. Sometimes, when people describe a progressive classroom they refer to it as unstructured. This term is a misnomer. Teachers at PS1 thoughtfully structure the learning environments for your children to enhance motivation and meet students’ group and individual needs.

When people say that a progressive classroom is unstructured is it like saying that a building is unstructured. Think of the Music Center downtown or the house pictured here.


The structure that allows this building to float is unseen and undetectable to the untrained eye- so it is with a progressive classroom.

Environment impacts children and children respond differently to spatial experiences depending on the type of location and their mood. On a beach, one child will run as far as they can, and another will find a rock outcropping in which to “hide.” Teachers at PS1 understand that the learner-environment relationship is dynamic. What the observer sees is the flow of self-reliant children moving in and out of varied learning experiences; walking to put materials away, working in a small group, finding a place to concentrate by themselves. This choice of movement is not haphazard nor does it happen spontaneously. Progressive educators scrutinize their space and consider their students’ needs as they plan their environment. Not all of this is evident to the “naked eye.” Just as the floating house has an invisible structure so does the progressive classroom.  The teachers at PS1 plan the classroom environment with an emphasis on the knowledge of who their students are both individually and collectively.

The photos below illustrate some examples of this in the classrooms.

See that LJIndigo have varied areas for children to work and LiAnne and Jamie chose to put a quiet area in the center of the space.


In this photo, the JPO teachers use tape to create a boundary for the block area. This taped border is a simple visual signal to children that there is a particular place for their building.


In two other examples, one from JPO and the other from LJI note the well-organized space for children to work together with materials close at hand.



Like the “floating” house in the photo the structure is there in the classrooms.

Teachers at PS1 may set up their classrooms differently at PS1- no two classrooms are the same. But be assured that all of your childrens’ teachers have placed thoughtful consideration into how the environment impacts learning.


“There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment.”

Loris Malaguzzi


Nancy Harding, is the Assistant Head for Teaching and Learning at PS1. Since 2000, Nancy served as a Professor-Tenured at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education & Psychology, teaching graduate courses in child development and K-6 teacher education. Prior to Pepperdine, she taught elementary grade levels in public and independent schools in California. Nancy has been a progressive educator for many years. “After sixteen years as a professor I am delighted to be back working in a progressive school. I am thoroughly enjoying the teachers and students.”