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Walnut Hills Elementary students demonstrate their learning during Launch Day

 First grade student ready to shares her project during Walnut Hills Elementary Launch Day“I’m feeling nervous.”

First-grader Mihika Bhattacharjee admitted to having a few butterflies before something called “Launch Day” at Walnut Hills Elementary. That’s the day she and her classmates each presented what their teacher, Sunita Mellem, calls a “book report in a bag.”

“They got to pick one of their favorite books and then share all the story elements we’ve been learning about: book title, character, setting, plot, or a fact, if they picked a non-fiction book,” Mellem explained.

 First grade student shares her project during Walnut Hills Elementary Launch DayAfter taking a deep breath, Bhattacharjee confidently described the story elements of “The Gingerbread Cookie Mystery” by Judy Katschke, to her parents, her classmates’ parents, assorted relatives, and other special guests. Her classmates did the same.

“My book is ‘Katie and the Haunted Museum,” Talia Zepelin explained to her grandmother. “My characters are Katie and her friend Jojo, my setting is the museum, and one event is they have a sleepover at the museum.”

“This is my setting, the rain forest,” Sawyer Marasco said, as he held up the rainforest model he’d made on a paper plate. It depicted the setting of his book “Insects and Spiders.”

“A fact about spiders is that they can blend into their surroundings,” he added.

Similar presentations, all demonstrating the Cherry Creek Schools’ Core Value of Growth Mindset, took place throughout Walnut Hills on Launch Day, which was held on Friday, Dec. 16, shortly before winter break. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends packed the school to see what their students had been learning during the fall.

Fifth grade student shares his project during Walnut Hills Elementary Launch DayGrace Foster, who is studying Elementary Education at Fort Lewis College in Durango, had just gotten home for the holidays. She came to see her brother Tyler’s presentation, which was designed to answer a question he was curious about, specifically, “Why is Venus so hot?”

Tyler Foster, who is in fifth grade, used a whiteboard drawing and a computer presentation to explain the answer to his question.

“Venus has an atmosphere that can take the heat the sun gives off,” he said. That’s why Venus is hotter than Mercury.”

His older sister was impressed.

“I wanted to see what he was learning,” Grace Foster said. “I think his presentation was very well thought out and very thorough. It’s one of the first presentations I’ve seen him make, so I’m very proud of him.”

Foster’s teacher, Drew Solowy, explained how Launch Day came about for fifth-grade students.

“About six weeks ago, we asked kids to think of a science-related question that they were really curious about that perhaps we hadn’t explored in the classroom,” Solowy said. Students used their “Genius Hour,” a one-hour period every Friday, to research their question.

“The kids loved Fridays. They could not wait for Genius Hour,” Solowy said. “We really encourage the fun part of research: just trying to get answers about stuff they want to know about. It’s a ‘go find out’ kind of project.”

Fifth grade students shares their project during Walnut Hills Elementary Launch Day Lily Ettinger, Juniper Keithler, and Reniyah Chance wanted to learn more about zodiac signs, so they collaborated on their Launch Day project.

“We went onto Google and searched for zodiac signs,” Chance said. “It told us about their ruling planets, so we decided to research more about that. Leo’s ruling planet is the sun and Virgo’s ruling planet is Mercury.”

Not only did the students find answers to their questions, they also honed their research and information literacy skills.

“They had to get the same info from two different sources to determine if a source was credible and valid,” Solowy said. Then, like their first-grade schoolmates, they had to present to an audience of family, friends, and even people they didn’t know, who are all part of the community that supports Walnut Hills students.

“Here at Walnut Hills, we’re really big on building community,” Solowy said. “These people you see around us, all these parents, family members, friends… they’re all stakeholders in the development of these kids.”

Posted 1/10/2023.