Friday, March 30, 2012

Bees, reading, and brains

Pre-K kids love Library time
This story has two parts. 

Part 1: Last week I asked some 4-5's to answer questions about our bee program for a small grant application from the National Wildlife Federation and Nickelodeon.  The last question was "What is your favorite Nickelodeon show?"  As I was reading some great responses, I noticed that several said, "I don't have a television."  I was actually surprised and talked to their teacher Rose about it.

Rose told me that the children without televisions were actually better writers.  Not that other children were bad writers - but there seemed to be a correlation to lack of television and good writing.  This is surely a small sample from which to draw a conclusion, but Rose's take on it was that kids without TV's just had more time to read so their analysis and writing were better.  She also worried about the kids who told her they sometimes stay up really late (sneaking!) to play video games.

Here is a good article from the Huffington Post Brain Development: How Much TV Should Children Watch?  Screen time is so compelling!  But what is the cost of letting our children indulge?

Part 2.  Our kids are passionate about the bee program and the importance of our threatened pollinators.  Recent information about what might be causing honeybees' plight: Subtle Poison from the Economist.

Excerpt from a 4th grader's answer to "What are you doing at school to help the environment?"
    We have a bee club at our school.  I know that helping the bees is helping the world - and without bees we wouldn't have vegetables and fruit trees and other things.  The bees play a really important roll in the world.  It is really good that we have a bee club.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Programmed to learn

I had a parade of excited Robotics Club kids racing in and out of my office this afternoon. They have programmed the robots to drive in a square - and one follows a black line using a light sensor.  Just look at these faces!  Next week: mastering remote control.

Math teacher Shelli Casler-Failing is in charge of Robotics Club.  She gave presentations this weekend to NY State math teachers on using writing in math and bridge building.  She is as charged up as the kids!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Heads and hearts

Dr. Jennifer Bryan's visit to Parker gave us a transforming day and a half.  She explored issues with parents, faculty and students about stereotypes that we deal with everyday and how those stereotypes affect gender and sexuality identity.  As Parker K-1 teacher Liliana puts it,

The impact of stereotypes on gender identity is more profound than you can ever imagine and comes up in the classroom more often than you might think.  Here are a few examples: “Girls can wear pink and blue but boys can’t ever wear pink.”  ”You got a pink (or purple) paper? That’s for girls.” “Boys are better at building.”  ”You look like a girl.” (to a boy.)  ”Boys have more muscles.”  ”Girls are smarter.”  And so on…

Children are vitally concerned with figuring out who they are and if and how they fit in.  By using their powers of critical thinking they can learn to better navigate messages from the media, our culture and peers while holding on to a strong sense of self. 

Jennifer read stories and held discussions in each classroom.  At a final meeting with teachers she said she found Parker students - middle school students in particular - to be hungry learners.  "Parker kids are thinking critically and have media literacy. They are curious and informed, expressing an understanding of religion, culture, and the constitution in a sophisticated way.  They bring both their heads and hearts to the discussion."

Dr. Bryan's new book is being published this month: From The Dress Up Corner To The Senior Prom: Navigating Gender and Sexuality Diversity in PreK-12 Schools.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring is here

Spring has sprung!  Recess activities: smelling the flowers, finding worms, measuring the world's longest crocheted yarn rope, convening the Bug Town Council...All those sleds left over from the snow?  Fill them with feathers or mud!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Smarter brains

Your Brain on Fiction  and  Why Bilinguals Are Smarter
from this weeks NY Times magazine are both interesting reads.  Neuroscience has added so much to our understanding of learning  - and has reinforced for us just why we teach in certain ways. 

Taking the lead

Students take the lead in the spring conferences with their parents.  They choose a portfolio of their work to share and reflect on their progress and goals.  This time with parents one-on-one is very special. It fosters important skills: accountability and self-knowledge.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

STEM skills

Science, technology, engineering, math - or STEM  - is the hottest trend in education today.  We are already on this band wagon - for solid reasons.  Our Pre K kids build with blocks and do puzzles for greater spatial understanding and problem solving.  Our students have math in small groups for an hour every day starting in kindergarten and meet twice weekly for science with a specialist - and it's a core subject with labs in middle school.  In K through 5, kids continue to build with blocks, Knex, and the like.

Giving students experiences in STEM skills through LEGO Robotics, STEM Week in middle school, Pi Day, and even Doctor week in Pre K are Parker priorities.

Ten skills gained from STEM activities:

o   Accuracy in record-keeping and communicating findings.
o   Researching topics and determining good, reliable sources of information.
o   Analyzing small parts of systems and seeing relationships; noticing details in content and process.
o   Recognizing cause and effect relationships and distinguishing fact and opinion.
o   Using mathematical skills for calculations and measurements.
o   Predicting and drawing conclusions using data.
o   Reading and understanding technical materials.
o   Repairing equipment and using software.
o   Communicating with others and listening.
o   Thinking creatively, solving problems and experimenting.

Plus, there is the sheer joy and excitement about science, technology, engineering and math!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Imagination takes so many forms.  This beautiful letter written by Helen Keller describing the view from the top of the Empire State Building shows the unlimited potential of the human mind to imagine.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Global perspective

Visitors to Parker this week: Jordi Ginjaume, General Manager and son of the founder of St. Peter's School in Barcelona, Spain, and Mark, head of the middle school.  This is the second part of an international exchange that began when Susie Merrett and Sarah Biondello visited St. Peter's earlier this year.  Former Parker teacher Teresa Ferrer-Mico has fostered the relationship between the two schools.

Jordi and Mark were delightful visitors.  We put on a special assembly for them with songs and dances in Spanish.  They observed in science, math and Spanish classes - and in archery, too.  They loved our buddy program and were impressed with the independent work ethic of our students.  Mark taught a class to middle schoolers contrasting Barcelona and St. Peter's School with Parker and Albany.  Parker's natural property was a contrast to a city school in Barcelona: we have acreage, but St. Peter's looks out over Barcelona and the Mediterranean.  

St. Peter's has over 620 students from 18 mos. to 12th grade.  They have a rigorous Spanish academic program  - and all students learn 5 languages.

Exciting news: 4 or 5 St.Peter's 8th graders will visit Parker in the fall and we will be arranging a teacher exchange, too!  This opportunity for our teachers and students to gain a global perspective through a cross-cultural exchange is very exciting, building ties, friendships, and understanding at an international level.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dr. Suess we love you

A Snow Day could not dampen the enthusiasm of Parker kids for dressing as their favorite characters!  We enjoyed story-teller Kent Busman, writer/illustrator Sylvie Kantorovitz, and inventive puppeteer Grein.  Our librarian, Carol Kanalley is working hard to re-schedule the other writers.  Kids stayed in costume all day - in Earth Science class, I loved watching Cinderella give a talk about bacillus, taking a question from the Lorax.  Read Across America Day is a favorite for the whole school!