Village School

Ben Franklin and Germs

By Lisa, Village School Parent

“When do Centers start?”

“Yay, we have Centers this week!”

“I got to go to Gardening (or Ceramics, or Lego Engineering, or you name it…) today!”

“I LOVE Centers!!!”

These are phrases teachers, parents and volunteers routinely hear about Centers, with kids’ enthusiasm (even glee) showing how fun, hands-on projects and activities spark their natural curiosity, with valuable, real-world learning occurring along the way.

Each year, Village offers approximately eight different Centers for upper and lower grades respectively, and students provide input into their top choices. These are unique curriculums developed and led by parents with teacher guidance. Kids attend in small, mixed age groups, rotating either every four weeks (Grades K–2) or every six (Grades 3–5).

In 2014, our Centers program was instrumental in helping Village win the California Distinguished School Award. Centers officially adopted the acronym STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) in 2015, to emphasize that in addition to having fun, students are learning STEAM concepts and putting them into action.

Getting Centers up and running this year took a bit of extra effort after the unexpected departure of Angel, a dedicated parent volunteer — and veteran Centers organizer extraordinaire Stephanie stepped in. Stephanie said, “the work is all worth it when I go into the classrooms at the beginning of the year to tell students about the Centers options, and I am consistently greeted with enthusiasm and gratitude for this unique program. It’s all about the kids!” Many parents and caregivers also generously give their time, sometimes leading or assisting more than one Center or changing their preferred shift day to help. It takes over 60 volunteers each year to keep Centers going. In addition to all the Centers leads and assistants, Stephanie said, “several other people need to be acknowledged – supervisors Louise and Kelli, lower grade day manager Allie, and Teachers Elizabeth and Aisling, who support the program over the year, all play important roles and go above and beyond to make Centers successful.”

We hope to highlight a few Centers with each issue of this year’s Village Voice. Here, we spotlight two new Centers:

Ben Franklin Center, Lower Grades (K–2)

Students in the Ben Franklin Center get to delve into the life of an unusually well-rounded, fascinating, and accomplished person from history, similar to last year’s Leonardo da Vinci Center. “Each week we explore a different ‘career’ of Ben Franklin, learning about Franklin as a scientist, inventor, writer/publisher, and what I call a ‘Super Citizen,’” said parent lead Veronica, who developed both Centers. The goal is to “inspire the kids to be amazing and teach some math, science, art, history and social concepts along the way.”

The Ben Franklin Center has a flexible curriculum that can change according to the group’s interest. “The biggest challenge is narrowing down the list of possible lessons and activities,” said Veronica. So far, both students and Center leads particularly enjoyed playing with electricity, which included creating a loop to light an LED, and an experiment with static electricity and a balloon. Conrad said, “I love it when Centers have science!” during this session. Mackenzie really enjoyed “when you rub the balloon on your head and then hold it by the pepper and salt, and the pepper sticks to the balloon but not the salt because of static electricity.” After learning about Franklin’s famous kite experiment with electricity and lightning, students also made kites and flew them over the field (without the lightning, of course).

Ben Franklin was the 1st Post Master General for the U.S., so the Village mail service is incorporated into each week’s activities. Other projects include candle making and writing a student version of “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” 

Germs, Mutants and Genes, Upper Grades (3–5)

Can you guess which surface around Village School has the greatest variety of growing bacteria?

Students sought the answer to this intriguing question in the first few weeks of this new Center. Parents and Center leads Kristy, an entomologist, and Ali, a biologist, developed the curriculum for Germs, Mutants and Genes.

During week one, students used sterilized swabs to collect samples of bacteria from several locations they chose around our Village campus. In Ali’s group, these locations included Village Secretary Becky’s door knob, the floor and a toilet of the girl’s bathroom, the equipment room door handle, the field, the bottom of a shoe, and the sandbox. Last, they decided they needed a swab of the inside of someone’s mouth, and Teacher Aisling graciously volunteered for this (perhaps overly-revealing) task.

After collecting their samples, students placed them in prepared petri dishes where they grew for a week in the dark. The students wrote down hypotheses about bacteria growth, with many thinking that the samples from the bathrooms would win the variety contest.

Before viewing their samples in week two, the group learned the basics of compound microscopes, including how to carry them, how to focus the lenses, and that you should keep both eyes open to avoid eye strain. They practiced these skills in pairs looking at pieces of string under their microscopes. Everyone became immersed in this activity. Aiden said, “Even a piece of string looks interesting up close!”

Ali then re-focused the students on their question from the previous week: “Which surface around Village School contains the most kinds of bacteria?” They spent time viewing their samples under the microscopes, with a few rather surprising results. Yes, Becky’s doorknob and the toilet contained the most types of bacteria, and so did the sandbox. But the least variety of bacteria was on the floor of the girl’s bathroom! “What can you infer from that information?” Ali asked. After some discussion, the students decided, “Mr. Fred cleans the floor every day.”

As far as Teacher Aisling’s mouth, the results were unimpressive, but Ali and the group conspired to inform her that of all chosen locations on campus, she did indeed did have the greatest variety of bacteria growing there. This drew chuckles from passers-by Becky and Principal David (who also jumped in and looked through the microscope). We hope that if Ms. Aisling is still under this unfortunate impression, she will be relieved to learn the truth!

In another recent session of Germs, Mutants and Genes, students learned about cell biology, discovering the similarities and differences between plant and animal cells. Kristy said, “The students created three inch cells with shrinky dink paper. I then baked the colored cells and they shrunk to one inch size. Fun fact – a circle one inch in diameter can hold over one million cells!”

Future lessons include genetics, extracting DNA from strawberries, and evolution. “My hope for this Center is that the kids will get to experience life at a microscopic level. One thing I’m really looking forward to is teaching them about DNA and natural selection,” said Kristy. Ali said that in addition to taking away information from the lessons, “I hope they will learn to love biology.”  

STEAM Centers 2017–2018

Lower Grade Centers (K–2)
Ancient Rome 
Ben Franklin 
Lego Engineering 
Outdoor Games 
Outdoor Photography 
Travel and Adventure 

Upper Grade Centers (3–5)
Native Americans 
Roller Coaster Design 
Germs, Mutants and Genes 
Brain Power/Games 
Pinterest Art 
Outdoor Games