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Kindergarteners & Fifth Graders Benefit from Inquisitive Team-up at Vista

In theory, teaming up for a series of STEAM-based collaborative learning exercises would give kindergarten and fifth grade students at Vista Charter Academy a new perspective. That hypothesis was proved to be correct.

Kailani Sarjeant’s kindergarten class joined forces with students from Katie Zillich’s fifth-grade class for a series of STEAM activities (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) with pumpkins on Oct. 25.

Children building with marshmallows and toothpicks.

The partnership with a student of a different age made for a unique environment as opposed to one where a student might avoid trying and being wrong in front of an entire class.

“It was nice for them to have that safe relationship with another student and hear it again in kid language from someone,” Sarjeant said.

At their own pace and one-on-one with a partner, students worked through a variety of stations in the gym. The fifth graders guided the kindergarteners in various STEAM activities and in recording their predictions and experiences in their booklets. Their tasks included investigating the attributes of their individual pumpkins, noting the color, size, shape, number of ribs, and presence or lack of a stem.

Slices of pumpkin in cups.

Almost as enjoyable was taste testing the parts of a pumpkin and graphing scholars’ opinions on a Yum or Yuck graph. Most scholars preferred the roasted seeds over the roasted shell, Sarjeant said.

Using marshmallows and toothpicks, or straws and pipe cleaners, scholars built 3-D “pumpkins” with a challenge of making different shapes and shapes that were not cubes. After sorting through the life cycle of a pumpkin, scholars assembled 3-D cross sections of their pumpkin and labeled the inside and outside parts.

Students crafting with pumpkins at a table.

When activities were complete, the fifth graders entertained their kinder buddies by reading fall- and harvest-themed picture books.

“They were able to complete their entire booklet in about an hour and a half because they had one person who was guiding them and asking them questions and offering them encouragement or support when they needed it,” Sarjeant said. “It was really nice to have some reciprocal teaching going on.”

Student posing with marshmallows and toothpicks. 
After the activity, the fifth graders gave feedback on skills some of their young peers needed work on and asked about another opportunity to be in a leadership role. Sarjeant said teachers were in awe of the compassion shown by the fifth graders to their kindergarten peers and the respectful behavior displayed by all scholars. 
“I really wanted to encourage a partnership and get some role models for my kindergarten students. They don’t often get to see such big kids. They’re not in our wing, we don’t run into them at lunch or recess, so it was really neat to have them be able to work together. It was great to see them emphasize some of those Moral Focus virtues, as well, just of being respectful and persevering through some of those activities that might have been more challenging for them.”

An art piece by a student about pumpkins.

About Vista Charter Academy
Vista Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 95 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit
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