Susie Scientist For The (Learning) Win!

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Susie Scientist visited our first and second graders last week! She brought with her energy sticks, which conduct electricity. Susie talked about how neurons make connections, and how the energy stick helped connect the class.

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Students worked in groups, holding hands with each other and the energy sticks to learn about closed circuits and open circuits. They held hands in a big circle and sure enough, the machine buzzed and lit up!

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What a great way to learn!

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Featured Teacher: Phil Kahler

In early May Mr. Phil Kahler, our science teacher (grades 7 – 10) flew to Ithaca, New York where he participated in the BirdSleuth Strategic Planning meetings held at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The team was composed of Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff and an advisory board consisting of seven education professionals including K-12 classroom teachers, a 4-H STEM Coordinator, and the Director of Education at the Atlanta Audubon Society.  Members were tasked with the responsibility of developing a 5-year plan for organizing, disseminating, and further developing BirdSleuth programs using the rich STEM resources at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds and is known for its scientific excellence and technological innovation.  BirdSleuth is Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s K-12 inquiry-based approach to science curriculum that engages kids in scientific study and real data collection through the lab’s exciting citizen-science projects.  Mr. Kahler and his students at Tualatin Valley Academy have had a long history of collecting bird observation data on campus at our bird blind to share with eBird, one of the lab’s citizen-science projects.  While participating in the BirdSleuth program, Mr. Kahler’s students conduct scientific investigations to discover answers to their own questions.   Over the years, we have had many Tualatin Valley Academy students publish their bird research reports and artwork in the BirdSleuth Investigator, a publication written by and for students.

This summer Mr. Kahler will make his fourth trip to the Amazon, where he will represent the BirdSleuth program as he works with science teachers participating in the Educator Academy workshops in Peru.   He will lead bird watching adventures while training teachers how to collect and enter bird observation data into the eBird data base.  “Early morning birding by boat is the most intense rapid-fire birding I've ever experienced”, recalls Mr. Kahler.  “At times our guides would be calling out 4-5 birds at the same time from opposite sides of the boat...all of which I had never seen or heard of before.  There just wasn't time to look in the field guide until afterwards.  The other teachers and I just wrote down names as fast as we could as the birds were being pointed out.  Later, we compared our notes back at the lodge as we compiled a complete checklist of birds observed that morning.  During my first three trips to the Amazon I have helped teachers report over 325 different bird species to eBird!  The diversity of bird life is simply incredible in the rainforest.”

During Mr. Kahler’s trips to the Amazon he became friends with Lucio Pando, one of the local Amazonian bird guides, who also had a passion for teaching children about birds.  “While talking with Lucio I learned he did not have adequate access to binoculars needed for teaching the children.  I just knew I had to do something to help Lucio obtain binoculars for his students!” exclaimed Mr. Kahler.  Sadly, last November Lucio unexpectedly passed away just as the Amazon Binocular Project began collecting donations of used binoculars.  Fortunately, two other bird guides who have been using the BirdSleuth-International curriculum in remote schools along the Amazon River are very excited to use the binoculars we have been collecting.  Some of Mr. Kahler’s students have been helping him evaluate, clean, and pack up the binocular donations.  Mr. Kahler recently shipped 23 pairs of new and used binoculars to a school group who volunteered to deliver the binoculars to the bird guides during their visit to the Amazon in early June.

Mr. Kahler feels honored to be on the BirdSleuth Advisory Board as he looks forward to the next five years of the program.  He enjoys hiking, beekeeping, and photographing birds.  

Featured Class: Preschool

Here at Tualatin Valley Academy, Preschoolers are engineers. They are scientists. They are musicians. They are artists. They explore the world around them through play, guided by a creative, interactive curriculum and an amazing staff of 3 teachers. 

TVA's preschool program is very popular with parents, and for good reason. Allison Moor, the preschool program director, uses a curriculum that challenges her students to learn while allowing them to be kids. The curriculum is dynamic and unique. They tackle one theme a month and learn about it through STEAM-based projects such as engineering parachutes out of half an Easter egg, straws and coffee filters, designing catapults and shooting pom poms from them to discover what makes the pom pom fly the farthest, using bread as petri dishes to discover why hand washing matters, creating 3D moon paintings with paper mache, doing baking projects and making jellyfish that dangle from the ceiling of the classroom. 

Topics taught include everything from the desert to the ocean to life skills. Not only do the students learn about the world around them, but they are taught about it through the lens of how God created the world they interact with. 

Another unique characteristic to Mrs. Moor's classroom is that she has incorporated wobble stools at all the tables the students work at. This allows kids to be kids - to wiggle and move while they work without being disruptive. It improves their focus and attention to the task at hand.

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The class is led by three amazing, patient and dedicated teachers: Mrs. Moor, Mrs. Werner and Mrs. Connell. They find joy in working with their students and are focused on teaching them not only academics, but how to treat each other and a host of other life skills as well. They take pride in getting to know each student and their family and are often heard asking about siblings, parents and family events. 

In addition to the class teachers, the preschool class has buddies from both third grade and sixth grade. They sit together in chapel, read together and do fun activities. This allows the preschoolers to get even more individual attention and helps the third and sixth graders learn leadership skills through mentoring someone younger than themselves. 

In TVA's preschool, kids are challenged to grow not just academically, but spiritually and as leaders as well. Creativity and critical thinking are encouraged. TVA's preschool cares for the whole person, and it shows!

STEAM at TVA

Recently, during my walk-a-bouts in the classrooms of TVA, I found students working on a variety of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) projects. Here are a few pictures and a little info about two of them. 

In Mrs. Beck's Algebra I class, students are using pendulums to study standard deviation. They first took measurements using a "standard pendulum" and recorded its periodic movement. 

The second pendulum was designed by the students to be different from the standard pendulum in at least one way. Changing the length of the string, the length of the bob, or the amplitude (the angle of release). 

They will compare that data to the standard pendulum to determine which variable affects the period of a pendulum -- length, weight, or amplitude. Attached is a graph showing our original data (time for 5 periods of the pendulum). 

In Mr. Kahler's Seventh and Eighth Grade Science classes, students have been studying magnetism. During science lab this week our 7th and 8th grade students used Vernier Software's LabQuest 2 data loggers and magnetic field sensors to explore the strength of Earth's magnetic field, determine magnetic north, and calculate declination. the LabQuest 2 data loggers help students collect data and graph it in real-time. Current technology like Vernier's sensors and probes bring interest and excitement to our students as they conduct their scientific investigations. 

Movements in the Earth's liquid outer core produce a magnetic field that protects us from the harmful effects of the solar wind, allows us to navigate with a compass, and helps birds find their way during seasonal migration. True north is the geographic location at Earth's rotational axis. Because magnetic north moves (currently in northern Canada), we need to know the difference between the two when using a compass. The difference between magnetic north and geographic north is called declination.

This is the kind of quality teaching and student learning that is a regular and daily part of the experience that students have at TVA. Our teachers continue to create and provide outstanding learning experiences for our students. You will notice that up to date digital equipment as well as common items like strings and washers are used to explore important scientific and mathematical concepts. Guided by dedicated professional teachers, our students experience the best that education has to offer. 

Featured Class: Mrs. Youker's Third Grade

Mrs. Youker is excited about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). She attended the EXSEED Conference in Loma Linda, CA last year and brought home a lot of new, exciting ideas she was excited to try out! 

Always one to be on the cutting edge of education research, one of the first things she did was add stability balls to her classroom instead of chairs. Research has shown that kids need to be able to move while they learn, and she wanted them to be able to have that flexibility as needed. The kids enjoy the ability to move during class, and one parent observed that even though everyone in the classroom seemed to be moving, they were all quietly focused on their work. 

My child thinks ‘science’ so intuitively this year as a direct result of Mrs. Youker’s focus on the thought processes involved such as ‘asking questions, experimenting, trying new things’. By the 3rd week of school, my child was seeing ‘science’ in everyday activities and I loved it.
— Third Grade Parent

The other STEAM emphasis Mrs. Youker is doing this year is adding as many science experiments to her curriculum as possible. The class science textbook has many fun experiments to do to complement the materials they are learning. The class has enjoyed looking through dirt, testing the hardness of rocks, and running around the school's track to learn about acceleration, just to name a few. 

One Friday a month all 3rd grade students get an extra science experiment. When they do this experiment each month, they talk about the Scientific Method and use it to guide their learning. 

Mrs. Youker's class has had a lot of other fun learning experiences this year too. At Christmas they took part in a play with other 3rd and 4th graders called "Star of Wonder", which showed how Jesus came to this Earth to be born for us. They have also taken exciting field trips to the state capitol and OMSI. The class has learned about their communities and the 3 branches of government. They are learning cursive and handwriting. And, most importantly, they are studying about the Bible and Jesus' life on Earth. 


As a parent, I very much appreciate the moments when Mrs. Youker connects with my child to model solid Christian values of respect, kindness and integrity. During a video presentation she’s not hesitant to call out moments that conflict with the greater values she wants the kids to internalize. For example, on one occasion she stopped a video and was explicit with the class to say ‘This is a way of speaking to each other that I will not have in this classroom.’

I appreciate her commitment to learning new technologies and implementing them within the classroom such as the stability balls. The stability balls are AWESOME! She’s also expanded the Bible and Math curriculum. She embraces parental involvement without sacrificing the strong role of the teacher. That’s difficult and she does it with creativity, grace, fairness and strength. I highly value that skillset and the value I know it provides my child.
— Third Grade Parent

Mrs. Youker is working hard to prepare her students well not only for 4th grade, but for college and beyond. She is guiding them through this school year with an eye to each student's future, and her students have benefitted greatly from her guidance. 

Featured Class: 9th Grade Science

At Tualatin Valley Academy, we focus on teaching students as much by experience as we do from a textbook. That's why the Freshmen class headed out on a Marine Biology Trip in mid-September, led by Mr. Phil Kahler. Students had 3 days jam-packed with learning, including fossil hunting at the beach, engineering ROV's (remotely operated underwater vehicles), exploring mud flats, salt marshes and tide pools and taking a boat trip to whale watch and collect specimens to examine for their Marine Biology class. Students camp during this trip, and each evening closes with a campfire and student-led vespers. 


"It was amazing, a beautiful experience."


Mr. Kahler teaches Middle School and High School Science at TVA. When asked about his teaching philosophy, he answered "As a science teacher I don't want to just sit around and teach my students about science. I want my students to experience science and to do their own scientific investigations. I want my students to be scientists! To make this happen for our students, we must leave the confines of the classroom from time to time.

Our Marine Biology Trip is much more than another activity in the curriculum, it is an experience that I hope will inspire these students for a lifetime of exploring the wild and wonderful things God has created. There is nothing quite like breathing in the cool salty air as you hear the ocean waves crashing on the shore. It really does not matter how many books you read or how many documentaries you watch on TV; something as wonderful as a California Gray Whale will always be an abstract concept until you have seen one surface right next to your boat. You always knew whales were big, but this creature is crazy HUGE! And it is a breathing, living thing that moves and does what it wants."

The Freshmen science curriculum is Physical Science, made up of Marine Biology, Astronomy, Electricity & Magnetism, and an Introduction to Chemistry. The course is a hands-on laboratory based continuation of the integrated sciences covered in earlier grades. Students explore their world and gain a solid foundation for what they will study in Science over the next 3 years. 

Students on the Marine Biology Trip kept journals of their findings and favorite activities. One of the students' favorite activities was building ROV's at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. The class was divided into teams (girls vs. guys!) to craft their ROV's out of PVC pipe with a magnet attached to them. The girls dubbed theirs Charlotte, the guys, Tera-DACT-yl 3000. They then had a competition to see which team could collect more magnetic items from the bottom of a pool. A student reflected on building the ROV's:

"Making a submarine was the coolest, not knowing we were using engineering the whole time."

Another favorite memory across the board was the Discovery boat tour. Students studied creatures from plankton to whales and even got to try their hand at driving the boat! 

"When we were on the boat we got to learn more about the importance of the ocean, which made it much more interesting rather than just reading about it." 


"You could see God's majesty through His beautiful creation."


Building students' relationship with God was central to the trip. When studying science, it is hard not to see God's hand in all of His creation. One student commented: 

"...and seeing how beautiful the sea is and the life that lives there made me reflect on how perfect of a job God did in crafting this amazing world."

God's amazing world, indeed. 

For photos, links and more information, check out Mr. Kahler's Marine Biology page here!

Featured Class: Mrs. Wendt's First and Second Grade

Mrs. Wendt, one of TVA's first and second grade teachers, is taking science to a whole new wacky level this year! Her Wacky Science curriculum, which is taught every Thursday, has first and second graders on the edge of their seats and clamoring for more.

Professor Susie Scientist teaches the class, complete with a lab coat, goggles and wacky white wig. Students perform experiments like watching skittles dissolve and bleed color when placed in water, in the process learning about things like what water solubility is and much more. 

Another project involved water beads, teaching students about how to form a hypothesis. If food coloring was introduced into the water, would the water beads absorb it or would they stay clear? Students journal their findings, combining reading, writing, art and drawing skills with their science lesson. 

Wacky science lessons are woven into the larger curriculum that Mrs. Wendt teaches. For example, the week the class did the water beads experiment, they had read "The Invisible Boy", a story about including others. They talked about how the clear beads disappeared into the water and related it back to the book. This week the class experimented with Mentos and Diet Coke, learning about this week's "word to live by", cooperation. They got to see firsthand how well Mentos and Diet Coke cooperate!

Mrs. Wendt has brought STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) into her classroom in several other ways. She has iPods with educational apps on them for student use. She created STEM bins with things like 3x5 cards and tape for students to build structures out of, or popsicle sticks of various sizes with velcro on the ends for students to create fun new shapes and structures during free play.

First and second graders in Mrs. Wendt's class are sure to sharpen their science skills this year, and they (and Mrs. Wendt) will have a lot of fun in the process!

STEAMing Ahead!

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During the last week of June, twelve TVA teachers and three of our pastors traveled to Loma Linda University to participate in an EXSEED conference. EXSEED (Excellence in STEM Experiential Education) "is an innovative and collaborative program designed to enhance integrated Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in Adventist K-12 schools."

We spent the week in classes and workshops led by experts in science, technology and mathematics. Topics included Human Anatomy, 3D Printing, "Wacky Science", Advances in Cancer Research, Geology and Enrichment Topics for Mathematics. Visits to a medical simulation lab and a workshop with live venomous snakes kept the excitement high! We also completed assignments in groups of 3 or 4 that included recording video and editing it with sound and titles into a short 3 minute film that was shared with the whole group.

Our TVA teachers are excited about increasing our use of STEM activities in our classrooms. We already do many projects that are STEM in nature. From making catapults in Preschool to our Working Models class in grades 7&8 we already have many STEM components being taught. 

Our teachers want to include Art in their projects, which turns STEM into STEAM! This was a key part of one of the projects done in grades 5&6 last year where each student studied an animal and created a clay representation of it as part of their presentation.

Our ninth grade students will experience a problem based learning class this next year that will immerse them in the application of STEAM learning. We are excited about the future of increased STEAM learning at TVA and are committed to making it an important part of our curriculum.