Friday, May 6, 2016

All about PEAK

PEAK: An Overview

Liberty Public Schools has two PEAK sites: Ridgeview and Alexander Doniphan. Students from Lewis and Clark, Ridgeview, Franklin, Warren Hills, and Lillian Schumacher attend the Ridgeview site, where I’ve had the privilege of spending the year as an EIP intern. PEAK is a world all of its own, and requires some time to figure out. To save you some time, and to prepare you before going in, here’s a breakdown of what PEAK is, what it means to be a PEAK teacher or student, and why PEAK kids rule.

What is PEAK?
The Peak program is an accelerated program for high achieving students.
  • How does a student qualify for PEAK?
    • There is a flow chart describing the 3 different methods a student can test into PEAK through: that's how extensive the screening process is. Put simply, there are several qualifying exams; including iReady, Gates, and even an IQ test. Students can qualify as young as second grade.
  • Do students go to PEAK every day?
    • Sadly, no! Each student goes to PEAK once a week.  
  • Are PEAK kids all geniuses?
    • Though this was one of the first questions I asked last fall, if you were to ask my teachers this, they would chuckle. No, not all PEAK kids are geniuses: they make mistakes and struggle, just like normal kids do. There’s a stigma that surrounds PEAK that all Gifted kids are perfectly behaved, Einstein-like drones working tirelessly.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, PEAK kids are not smarter: they just think differently. That is one of the most essential foundations of PEAK. It isn’t there to be a smart kids club: it is a separate educational model for students who learn outside the traditional methods.
  • If PEAK kids aren’t geniuses, are they at least different?
    • That’s a very strong yes. Gifted kids are some of the quirkiest kids you will ever meet. Some are the traditional school loving, hard working kids you would think of. Others prefer experimentation, and love anything hands on. A majority of them have the astounding quality of absorbing knowledge like sponges, constantly spewing whatever facts and information swirl around their brain that day. They each have a new, innovative way of looking at the world and solving problems. Though, because they think so drastically different from other children, they also come with their own set of behavioral issues. Many PEAK kids are introverted, and have trouble communicating their ideas to partners or teachers. Failing is difficult for them, too. Most of them are the stars of their home classrooms, rarely missing a question. When they transition to PEAK, especially the first year, many of them encounter their first real challenge with understanding content. Their high self-esteem can be crushed when they learn they aren’t as perfect as they thought they were. They aren’t used to working hard in school, and often want to give up. One of the many challenges of being a PEAK teacher is encouraging the students through their struggles, while motivating them to keep trying.

What do you do in PEAK?
Peak’s school day schedule is different than a normal classroom. There are three different parts of the day: including Theme Study, Centers, and PGD.
  • Theme study is specific to each grade. The second graders study scientists, third graders study countries, fourth graders study inventors, and fifth graders study the brain. This can be done through a wide range of activities, including taking notes from books and online resources, doing projects, and creating presentations.
    • Side note: notes for PEAK are done a very specific way. Students decide the aspects, or categories, of the topic they want to research, which become their headings. These are the notes they are looking for while reading, which they write down on notecards. The heading the note relates to goes at the top of the page. The page number the note is found on goes in the top left corner, and the source number is written in the top right. They have to paraphrase the information from the book, and write it in “caveman language”, removing all but the necessary words. ‘
  • There are three different centers: science, math, and topic study. These can be done in a variety of ways. Some days, the teacher will have the entire class work on one center together. Most days, though, the room is divided into sections, and students work independently on their school work while the teacher circulates and answers questions.
    • Science: Every grade does something different in science. Second grade studies simple machines, while third grade studies electricity and circuits. The fourth and fifth graders study the scientific method, eventually designing and executing their own experiments.
    • Math: For second and third grade, the math curriculum is divided into lessons. Each lesson has a packet of problems, which students work through a page at a time. When they finish a page, if the problems are correct, they get a star on their math ticket, which they can redeem for prizes when it’s filled. Fourth and Fifth grade choose from either the basic or advanced track, which give a set list of problems from a workbook to complete.
    • Topic study: Every student chooses his or her own topic study from a presented list. Second graders have a list of five different options, while the third graders have ten or fifteen. The list expands each year, adding more options. Each topic study has a matrix that connects to an activity for each one of Bloom’s Levels of Learning.
  • PGD stands for personal growth and development. This part of the day helps to solve the problems mentioned above pertaining to gifted children. In PGD, students think about thinking, analyzing how their thought processes affect their learning and academic performance. Once again, each grade studies something a little different. Second grade studies what to do when they get stuck, and third grade studies different kinds of thinking. Fourth grade studies more in-depth psychology terms like Occam’s Razor and self- defeating behavior. Fifth grade studies personality, and use the knowledge of the workings of their brain to their advantage in their studies.
Each grade has a schedule they follow. Third graders do theme study in the morning, followed by centers, with PGD before they leave. Rarely do the teachers change the schedule, and when they do, they have to constantly remind the kids to be flexible. Change is really difficult for PEAK kids. They are with the same class of kids every year, and with the same group of teachers.

Why is PEAK important?

My PEAK classrooms are my favorite place. The learning environment is what I would describe as creatively contemplative. The kids love what they do, and constantly wish they could come to PEAK everyday. The main different in PEAK is the purpose of it. Home classrooms teach students their base level of knowledge, beating thing like the alphabet and multiplication tables relentlessly into their brain. PEAK, on the other hand, is about application. Because of the work the home classrooms go to, students can come to PEAK and use that information in critical ways. Think of it the students like runners. Their home classrooms are their gyms, exercising and preparing their muscles. PEAK is like a race, fast paced and strenuous. PEAK takes the highest-level learners, and exercises their brains in ways that they learn the best. PEAK trains kids to think critically and preserve, which is invaluable in and out of school. I see the condition the students come in as second graders. I compare that to the young adults I see going on from fifth grade to middle school this year, and I am amazed by the difference PEAK has made in the level of learners they’ve become.

To Future EIP Students

Open House

Monday night was our PEAK open house. This is our final event of the year, where all the students compile the pieces they've completed into one big project/ presentation to share with their parents. There must have been at least 100 tables lining the hallways, piled with trifolds, games, and QR codes. It was my first time attending an event like that as a teacher, and it felt so exciting. Seeing the pride the students have in what they've done this year makes me feel even prouder of them. I love seeing the parents too; they're such good sports, asking their children questions intently as they race from one table to the next. It made me so incredibly happy to have several parents come up to me and ask if I was the Miss Emma they had heard so much about.

The second graders displayed the machines they built from Connects, and each have a board presenting their findings on their scientists. They also laid out their inventions they produced.

The third graders made a display about their research findings on their country from a variety of mediums. Some included the creative project we made before winter break, while some laid out their notes they took. Everyone made a final Project that showed what they had learned over the course of the year, and these ranged from interviews to plays to websites to games. At the end of the table, their switch write ups and switches were placed next to a table with circuits I built that afternoon. They were able to show their parents their switch in action, and explain how it worked using their knowledge of electricity, circuits, and conductive materials. 

Downstairs, the fourth graders displayed the advertising experiments they conducting, and the trademarks they designed for their inventors. The fifth graders had their brain museum in the gym, showcasing their experiments and research from the year.

My favorite part of the night was seeing the students' excitement when they saw what they were going to be doing next year. I only wish I could be here to see it.

Rigor, Relevance, and Technology Lesson

For our final EIP lesson, we had to do a differentiated learning lesson that increased both the rigor and the relevance of what they children were learning. At first, I struggled with the assignment. What PEAK kids do is already so rigorous and globally relevant, I couldn’t think of a single thing to improve. Then, I learned my third grade students would be creating a cumulative final project for their theme study country to present. I decided that it would be helpful for them to see a model project and presentation to gain ideas from. I also thought about their BE talks last semester, and though a lesson on presentation skills might be useful too.
             I began to talk with my teacher, and we brainstormed a plan. I gathered all the materials from activities the students completed through the year, including taking notes, filling out a compare/ contrast chart, writing a mock letter from home, and an end of semester creative project. I went through a replicated their process, and then made my own presentation over the country I visited last summer. At the time I was making my presentation, my students started their projects. Mrs. Foust had be give them a preview of what my slideshow would be like, and many of them got ideas of what to include in their final projects from it.
            I presented the week before they had their open house, so the lesson and ideas would still be fresh in their mind. I started my lesson by brainstorming as a class the techniques a good presenter uses up on the board. After we exhausted all ideas, I handed the students a piece of paper and had them make a t-chart, with a column for presentation techniques, and the other for questions. I set the goal of each student having at least one presentation technique before the end of my lesson. They took notes while I did my mock presentation, and wrote down all questions they had so I could present quickly and without interruption. I tried to make the presentation fun and engaging by putting my own pictures in and telling personal anecdotes. I also tried to make an obvious show of different presentation techniques, exaggerating movements like smiling, and eye contact. At the end, we compiled a list of all the things they noticed, and saved them for when they would be presenting later on. Below, you can see the list both the Monday and the Tuesday classes came up with.
            After we were all finished with the lesson, I brought in a few things from the trip, including a Pachyderm paper journal, a mask, a dress, some woodcarvings, a medicine bottle, and some newspaper clippings for the kids to look at. All together, they had a great time learning about an exotic new country, and got ideas for when they’re presenting their materials to their peers and their parents.

Presentation Technique Observation Lists
1. Use normal words, like talking to friend
2. Use eye contact
3. Confident/ Loud voice/ Not monotone
4. Be brave
5. Use lots of description
6. Just bullet points in presentation
7. Explain them, don’t just read off the screen
8. Talk only about what’s important
9. Go in order
10. Be a good audience member and pay attention
1. Confidence/ don’t be shy
2. Smiling
3. Don’t say umm
4. Speak clearly
5. If you mess up, keep going
6. Introduce yourself
7.Tell audience what you’ll be talking about
8. Face audience and make eye contact
9. Know your material
10. Give details and explain
11. Talk like you’re having a conversation
Give opinions

Monday, April 11, 2016


As you know, in their science center my third grade classes are studying electricity. The started the year by constructing a variety of circuits from directions in booklets. They tested different materials, and sorted them into either conductors or insulators. Lately, they've taken notes over five different kinds of switches (knife, slide, rotary, push, toggle) and looked for different examples in everyday life. Now, they're constructing their own switches using provided materials. They follow the scientific method, beginning with the choosing of their materials and writing a hypothesis to test. If their hypothesis fails (and most did) they reevaluated and brainstormed another idea.

This process has been so much fun, and so challenging, for both the students and I. Creating things shows the deepest understanding, but being told to make a functioning switch can sound intimidating. Some kids got had their idea in their head the minute they heard the assignment, while others continue to struggle even know. It's been a great way to put all the information they've put so much time into gathering into use. It's been just as hard for me as it has them. Helping them generate ideas, without just thrusting my own on them, is so hard sometimes. The art of asking the right questions is so much more difficult than it sounds. Eventually, I got the hang of it. I would ask them if their switch was working, and why or why not. Often, the switches would help the circuit to turn on, but not off. Other times, it wouldn't turn on at all. I tried to coach them through the science of it, asking questions like "Why do you think it isn't working?" and "So, how could you fix that? What needs to be done?".

These students amaze me every single day. These are eight and nine year old kids, and they are engineering functional electrical equipment with paper clips and aluminum foil. They began the year not knowing what a circuit was, and now they can create one in minutes using alligator clips, a battery, and a light bulb. Their problem solving skills are sharp, and they come up with ideas that I can't even fathom. I can't tell you how many sketches they showed me that I just told them to go ahead and make it, because I couldn't quite follow their train of though. Every switch is different, and every one works a little differently.

As hard as this lesson was, I really enjoyed it, and learned even more. Here's the switches my Monday class made, and their write ups for them, including the name of their switch, type, materials used, and how it works using science vocabulary.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Dr. Yerino Demonstrations

Earlier this year, I asked my physics teacher, Dr. Yerino, if he would be willing to come visit my third grade classes, because in Science they are studying electricity and circuits. PEAK generally doesn't take field trips, so I wanted to bring something fun and informative to them. Yesterday, Doc came and lectured on different kinds of light, space, and electricity; the demonstration spanned almost an hour. First, he talked to the kids about different kinds of light, including Infrared, Visible, and Ultraviolet, and which kinds of light have the most energy. Then, he gave a presentation on space, including the discussion of black holes, the sun, the planets, and astronomy. He finished off with demonstrations including an infrared speaker, a transistor with capacitors, and a Jacob's ladder.

Sadly, I was at North for most of the presentation (Darn you, Calculus) but all feedback I heard was positive. Doc brought in an incredible amount of presentation materials and fun physics demos for the kids, spanning across two tables! He also brought two high school students with him, Ying Chow and Jacob Dice. It was incredible watching him give the same lesson he gave us in Physics class to a group of third and fourth graders. He simplified it just enough the kids could follow along. It's days like these I (especially) love working with PEAK, because the students are a fantastic and rare breed; they learn incredibly fast, and are never afraid to ask questions. Watching them follow along with concepts beyond physical comprehension like black holes or numbers in the billions at the ages of 8 and 9 years old makes me so proud.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Take A Peak at Peek

Mrs. Foust held an open house for the second grade
parents so they could come see what their students were doing in PEAK. PEAK is not only new for the kids this year, but also for their parents. The teachers send out weekly newsletters of what the kids do in class, but this is a chance for the parents to see exactly what their students are doing. Each student was given a trifold and given free reign to decorate it as they wanted. The materials they had to display spanned work from every portion of the day.

For theme study, they had a portion of their notes they took, and a citation they filled out. Their topic study materials varied, with everything from paintings to labeled tiger diagrams to picture charts. Some students chose to display some of their notes on a ring. For PGD (Personal Growth and Development) they were tasked with writing a script about what they do when things get hard in the classroom. After they finished, we went downstairs and I recorded them reading it and uploaded it to Youtube. Mrs. Foust then linked the Youtube video to a QR code that the kids printed off and put on their poster. This way, the parents could use the class iPads to scan and watch their child's video. For their math portion, they picked the hardest problem they've solved so far in the class this year, and put the problem and an explanation of how they solved it on the trifold. For science, they put a picture of the simple machine they built out of Kinects, and what kind of machine it was. They also had a creativity portion, with work they did for fun in their free time. While they were given the same materials, every trifold was different. They all spent a surprising amount of time and care to make it look good.