Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Work hard, play hard

After a great morning showing their animal habitat work to the Pre K's, K-1's headed out for some fun in the snow.
In social studies 6th and 7th graders are discussing, "How did Greek culture and ideas survive so long?"
In science they are summarizing and analyzing current events articles like: "Steroids, Take One for the Team" from the LA Times; "The Day the Dinosaurs Died" from Weather Wise; " Obesity Goes Global - Blame Prosperity, Bad Habits and Fast Food" from the Orlando Sentinel. They are making power point presentations from research they have done on different sources of energy and comparing and debating the relative merits of each.
Eighth graders have just finished essays analyzing Supreme Court cases.
Then a rousing game of floor-pong!


We started a tradition a few years ago of having an assembly dedicated to peace as our last program before winter break. Children sing, they read poetry about peace and other reflections on peace that they have written. For the final song, the middle school students light candles. This year we also stood holding hands around the perimeter of the gym and passed a hand-squeeze of peace to feel connected and celebrate our community. It was quiet and sweet.

In a school that holds families of many different backgrounds and religious traditions, we try to be sensitive to children's feelings of being included. Especially in the lower grades, families are encouraged to come to school and share their traditions. In Pre K last week , Astrid, who is from Sweeden, brought her family in and shared her St. Lucia tradition, in her white dress with a headress of candles.

A peace assembly that includes candles joins a tradition of light that is part of many cultures and religions. A message of peace is one that even our youngest children can understand and participate in. I hope that this tradition grows and matures in the coming years!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wishes for snow, books, and an end to hunger

Pre K's rolled in the somewhat meager supply of snow, but then they did a snow dance - and it worked! The flurries are flying as I write.

After a whole week of the book fair, the picture I got was of the boxes ready to go back to Scholastic! It doesn't look like much compared to what we started with. We made over $900 for the library! Our parent volunteers spent long hours manning the cash box. There is no way to pull this fund raiser off without parents' help volunteering, sending in cash for wish lists, and putting up with cries for "Just this one more book, pleeeease!" Thank you to ALL - Thank you, thank you!

The 8th grade Oxfam hunger awareness banquet last night was very moving. Our students dressed up and spoke with power about world hunger. With the help of James, Dan and Susie, they put on a feast for a few, and offered rice and beans for many. I pulled a ticket for the "rich" table - boy, does that feel uncomfortable! But not as uncomfortable I'm sure as those who just got a scoop of rice to eat with their hands. The $1,036 they raised is for Oxfam America. Well done!!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Squirrel's Store

I got my own personal, hand-written invitation to The Squirrel's Store, a math play. It was performed today by first graders who wrote, produced, directed and acted. The audience of kindergartners and seventh graders gave rave reviews. The plot involved squirrels visiting a store and skip counting by twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes to purchase nuts. There was even a delivery truck: "Acorn Home Delivery - Call any time, day or night!"

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Middle school moments

Square roots, rational and irrational numbers, writing an essay, pudding math...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Poetry and music

On Friday, the 4-5's performed a "poetry slam" at assembly. It was wonderful in many ways. They looked so cool, that's one! And their main piece was very funny. But the best part was the level of their preparation - and their obvious delight that they pulled it off so well.

They spoke in unison, with inflection that highlighted the humor of the poem - and of course dressing like beat poets set it all off to perfection. Individuals and small groups recited poems with spirit, humor, and drama. Mindy, their teacher, also recited a poem about the difference that teachers make. It was very moving!

On Special Friends Day all the classes performed. There were songs, dances, and an aleatory composition by one of the middle school music classes. I have watched over the years as our performance culture has matured. It is gratifying to see the enthusiasm and pride our students bring to the stage. Sandy, our music teacher, introduces a diverse selection of music from world cultures and history. The new piano also makes a huge difference!

Here are reflections from middle school music journals about Schubert's Erlking:

I love the drama at the beginning of the lied. The intense sound of the piano captures the emotion in the piece. The way the characters' voices are separated by pitch gives you the effect of different people speaking. The child's rising voice also beautifully portrays the scene. The sheer intensity causes you to hold your breath throughout the entire piece, and not even know it.

Schubert wrote the song in triplets. The strands sound like the little boy's heart, beating fast...The child is terrified. Every time he screams it makes me feel his fear. The sound is very dramatic, even though you know what's going to happen, it still surprises you at the end.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Communicating in new and old ways

Yesterday our teachers met for a workshop on "How to Blog" with parent Alejandra Pickett. The goal was for everyone to leave with a blog. Almost everyone did!

We are moving step-by-step into the future with our communicating. In the next few months, I believe parents will be able to log onto class blogs for the latest in photos, news, and student work. Blogs really do have the potential to give students an audience. And they can give parents and others who are interested a real glimpse of what is going on.

Maybe all the new blogs will make this blog obsolete! But I hope not - I really enjoy the sharing aspect of posting photos and thoughts.

Today's pictures show Hunter in K-1 working on color mixing and the 4-5 class making beautiful covers for their poetry books. K-1 will host a celebration of their work on animal habitats on December 19. 4-5 will be performing a poetry slam at assembly this Friday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks for giving

This time of year we give thanks for giving. I feel so thankful for Parker students who are giving to others in meaningful ways. In these pictures you can see Jack in 2-3 boxing canned goods the class gathered for Catholic Charities. Gleb in 4-5 and his partner at Evergreen Commons are absorbed in thought during a chess match. Kelsey and Elana are recycling paper. Phoebe, Sasha, Ben and Olivia are stirring batter for the pumpkin bread they'll bake for the Pre K harvest feast for families and buddies.

Thank you to all our Parker teachers, families and friends who give so much to make Parker a vital, relevant, creative and kind place.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Artistic Connections

Yesterday I noticed many things going on in the arts. The excellence of the process and product were so evident.

Jonah is working on an Egyptian tomb painting (incorporating his own profile) that will be part of a hallway exhibit relating to 6-7's study of ancient Egypt. 4-5's are using percussion instruments for the complex rhythms in "Simple Gifts." Leo is illustrating the invitation to his family for the Harvest Feast. Obviously, wearing goggles is crucial to the artistic process.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dancing around

Eighth grade sponsored a Middle School Dance last Friday. I only got one picture, then my batteries went dead - which is probably OK, since I might have gotten some embarrassing shots. So I am posting a middle school picture of band practice.

The dance looked really fun! There was a costume ball theme (costumes optional) and a bake sale. An admission donation was suggested. Eighth graders raised $246.50 for their class trip to Philadelphia. The kids deejayed (is that a verb?) with tunes from Gabe's mom's dance class. It was loud - everyone danced. At the end the seventh and eighth graders cleaned up. It was over by 7:30.

Last night we had a trustee meeting. There are 19 trustees - a combination of parents, past parents, teachers, three acting heads of school (Trudy Hall from Emma Willard, Peter Baily from Oakwood Friends in Poughkeepsie, and me), two past heads (Marlisa Parker and Susie Merrett), and other wonderful people with varied fields of expertise who are kind enough to take on this role. For part of the meeting we took a "field trip" down the hall to Liliana's K-1 class and then to Sarah's middle school language arts classroom.

They told the trustees about how children learn to be writers at Parker. It was an inspiring presentation. It was great to see how consistent the process is from kindergarten through to eighth grade. In K-1 children learn to observe closely and to add detail to their writing. They write for authentic purposes like tracking the development of tadpoles or butterflies. Middle schoolers write every day in journals, keep weekly self-assessments with goals, and chose certain seeds of ideas to bring to fruition for creative writing. For essays they revise several times as they work to make their pieces truly great.

As one trustee said, "There is power in good writing." She was so glad to see that Parker students are held to the highest standards for grammar and style. She sees too much poor writing in the work world.

Then we approved the audit, coordinated committee goals, and talked about fund raising and how well the school is doing. It was over by 8:45.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I love doing Friday recess!

Today on the playground I saw intense digging, sculpting, and engineering in the sandbox. I saw a game that involved vampires, zombies, and bow-and arrows, and lots of discussion in a huddle. There is a group who practices intensely on the monkey bars and rings. Sometimes they fall (there is a thick, cushy layer of wood chips to fall on!) The ultimate challenge seems to be to skip to every other ring - not easy. There were also some chase games that I really couldn't tell you the rules for.

This past weekend I went to a workshop at Emma Willard with author Daniel Pink. Parker faculty read his book, "A Whole New Mind" this summer. His ideas have lots of implications for education. The lecture and discussion affirmed how we teach at Parker. We are giving children experiences that will lead to success in a massively changing world.

One of things we discussed was that play is so important for children. Laughter, humor, games, experimentation, negotiation, and imagination all develop critical skills. Failure can happen on the playground, and failure is crucial for mastery. It's like the old saying "if at first you don't succeed..."

Daniel Pink says that the very most important things for schools to cultivate in children are curiosity and persistence. Then, they can use their strengths to make a difference in the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

On Friday: 8th grade dramatizes the Salem witch trials, 2-3's portray the water cycle, Natalie mends a hurt finger, Pre K returns from an autumn walk...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


When a visiting parent saw that all the papers posted in the middle school language arts room say "Excellent" and "Terrific!" on the top, she wondered, "Are all the kids geniuses here?" Well, maybe. But the reason the posted papers are all good is revision. Revision is a constant process here. Students work on things until they reach excellence. What is "excellence" is something that the teacher and student or the class as a whole, agree upon. It could be different for each child, but there will be certain agreed upon criteria.

In 2-3, students are actually so excited about revising their poems about mist (part of their study of the water cycle) that they are loath to stop! They started with the bare bones of a poem and discussed typical describing words and "juicy," unusual describing words. How fun it is to use "juicy" words! Their poems are so rich! We'll put one in "FYI."

Here are two poems from middle schoolers:

by Jack

Gears meshing
Wheels turning
Legs burning
One more mile
Burning harder
Almost there

Winds forty
Waves crashing
Boat keeling
Don't capsize
Gotta tack
Coming around

Three two one
Out of the gate
Getting speed
On edge
Carving down
Start tucking

by Matthew

I am the remembrance
Of wars long past to wars
I'm from the survivors
Of the Greek, Roman
and Persian Wars
I am remembering
Them for they are worthy
Of Remembrance.

So, I am the reader
And the writer. The
Teacher and the
Pupil and will
Live to pass those
Legends to those
After me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fall Field Trips

Apple picking, pumpkin picking, patting baby goats - it is exciting to experience things away from school. Part of the fun in Pre K is that parents come along.

4-5's visited the New York State Library. They had the privilege of a special tour of the preservation unit where Roger Wilber gave a presentation about "Saving Your Treasures."