Showing What We Know

Parker believes in empowering children to take charge of their education. In so doing, our children become passionate experts about their learning, eager to take ownership of their work and share their learning forward with others. This week at Parker showcased the brilliant arc of our program as we celebrated both 8th Grade Thesis Night and our lower school Shows of Work.
To be a parent at Parker in these last weeks of school means to learn from our students. Whether it was a Kindergartener educating about how to make maple syrup or an 8th grader arguing for an end to consumerism in the fast fashion industry to mitigate the effects of global warming, Parker students wasted no time in schooling their grown-ups. Student work exhibited choice, autonomy, and yet a powerful sense of being part of the collective whole that defines our community.
Whether you consider our youngest or our eldest students, these final shows of work demonstrate important principles of a Parker education. First, the project tasks are broad and don’t lead to one right answer. When a Kindergarten student demonstrates their knowledge and pragmatic skills gained through forest play, they show us that they are capable of digging into a task. The experiences they gravitate towards (bugs, plant identification, fort building) and the themes of their play shows us what they think is important about their imaginations and therefore themselves. Similarly, when an 8th grader choses a current event to research and ultimately take a stand on, we get a glimpse into their process of self-discovery en route to adulthood.
The arc from PreK to middle school in these shows of work also demonstrates how powerful learning can be when a student has the ability to exercise choice. Personal meaning connects new learning to previous experiences and makes it more memorable. These final shows also demonstrate how Parker prepares students to learn on their own. We don’t want students to just recite facts because we know that memorizing is not the same as understanding. Here at Parker, each student “translates” their initial learning into final meaningful project work that requires analysis, synthesis, and creation to complete.
At all levels and across all grades at Parker, our students are engaged in projects that leverage their interests and passions to scaffold their skills towards a final, signature 8th grade experience. The 8th Grade Thesis is the culminating project that Parker students spend their entire academic careers preparing for. The Thesis Project builds upon our students’ years of experience cultivating curiosity-inspired hypotheses, interest-based research, and evidence-based critical thinking skills.
As our Head of School, Jennifer Gresens, explains, “The thesis project provides a wonderful opportunity for students to delve deeply into a topic of their choice, and present this topic to a wider audience. Our students have been researching and writing about their interests for years, and they are more than ready to take on this challenge. Choosing a topic that is personally meaningful to them, and often has great significance in the world, creates a sense of agency and engagement that propels them forward throughout the challenging process. Being able to present their findings and share them with the Parker community on Thesis Night gives our students an enormous sense of pride and confidence that they undoubtedly take with them into their lives beyond Parker. Our students get to see themselves as researchers, writers, speakers, and activists. It’s a wonderful first step in using their voice to affect change.”
Whether it is showing your parents your outdoor classroom or educating a wider audience of community members about your position on a cause, the true value of sharing knowledge is always evident on the radiantly proud faces of our students. Shows of Work build confidence in speaking and belonging. Sharing their knowledge and work gives students the opportunity to realize how much they know and have accomplished. Doing so in the presence of other families and administrators builds an intimate sense of community and support. The whole experience is a testament to a school culture that values belonging, independence, and growth. It is beautiful to experience.