Friday, March 29, 2013

Learning through making

Experimenting with light and wind forces in Pre K; writing a collaborative book about a cat named Muff and her encounter with a bobcat in K-1; demonstrating transfer of energy (6-7's) and measuring the relationship of ramp height to time and distance (4-5's)...

As science teacher Kate Perry said, "They don't actually realize just how much they are learning!" But learning, they are!  Topics and skills in physical science and writing, cooperation, and the habits of mind to explore and persevere.  Each instance of "making" creates opportunities for learning that are both specific and expansive.

The end result?  Inquisitiveness, motivation and understanding.  Lifelong learners in the "making"!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Connection and friendship

St. Peter's students and their Parker hosts were sad to part on Sunday!
Our recent week-long cultural interchange with ten students and two teachers from St. Peter's School in Barcelona gave us all new friendships and perspectives, and a very warm, good feeling.  There was hardly a dry eye (students and parents alike!) when they had to leave on Sunday. 

In Barbara Fredrickson's NY Times article Your Phone vs. Your Heart, she describes the connection between head and heart, reminding us that social interaction with others increases our capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

"When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other," she says.

That's what the week was really about - the connections we made.  Everyone remarked about it all week as we smiled and felt happy with refreshed empathy and understanding.  Our hearts were full.  Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, as the article says.

Thank you to all the teachers, parents and students from both sides of the Atlantic who made this wonderful week a reality!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What are apps doing to children's brains?

Sixth graders construct a Rube Goldberg machine, using hands-on problem-solving skills to explore forces of motion and make a simple task complicated.
The Touch Screen Generation by Hanna Rosen in the latest Atlantic gives a Mom's eye view of the controversies around kids and apps.  How much screen-time is OK?  How do you weigh educational apps vs games?  But the viewpoint the author leaves out is the one brought to us by JoAnn Deak: what does neuroscience show us about how the brain develops?  Dr. Deak shared the research showing that the brain's windows of opportunity for growth, once closed are pretty much closed forever.  She recommended little to no screen time for kids younger than 5.  (She does give a break to parents of a screeming toddler on the plane - just hand them the i-pad for heavens sake! - but she urged caution.)

Dr. Deak told us that the use of technology has allowed the visual part of children's brains to be as well developed as a muscle-builder's biceps, allowing other areas of perception to wither, like  listening and imagining.  We can counteract some of this effect at school, by building in time for the natural pursuits of childhood: lots of physical activity, discovery and plenty of human interaction.  Read stories without showing the pictures at first, so the visual part of the brain doesn't take over and audio comprehension is strengthened, she advised.

It is actually a comfort to know that with the latest neuroscience research we can actually find out what happens to a brain saturated with apps - and not just guess.  As educators and parents who want the best for our kids, we can continue to investigate this together!  I'm pretty sure we haven't heard the last word...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Days 2 and 3

On days two and three we had  a typical Albany March swing in the weather.  It snowed all day on Tuesday and into Tuesday night.  Perfect for sledding!  St. Peter's students shared songs in a variety of languages with the Pre K.  They joined a practice for Spring Sing and attended art classes - some even having their faces plastered!  Teacher Miss Katie shared a presentation about the habitat in Barcelona.  Both she and Caroline visited in classes and observed Parker teachers.  We wrapped up the day with a wild time in the gym playing games and enjoying delicious dishes brought by 4th - 8th grade families for a potluck supper.  Kids from St. Peter's seemed to like mac n' cheese just like Parker kids.

On Wednesday the whole middle school trooped off to the Capitol and the State Museum.  Upon arriving back at Parker, they headed out to observe the creek - muddy boots and all.  I think it will be an early-to-bed night for everyone.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The visit begins!

Students from St. Peter's School in Barcelona arrived at the train station in Albany last night, greeted by their new Parker friends.

Parker students performed an Assembly to welcome the visiting students to the school.

St. Peter's students presented a beautiful book to Parker.

Our first day has begun - there were big smiles all over the school as our visitors from St. Peter's arrived this morning with their host families.  There have been "getting-to-know-you" games and a slide show about life in Barcelona.  Tonight is threatening to bring up to a foot of snow - so we are all waiting to see if it will be a "Snow Day!"

Follow the St. Peter's Blog.

What drives engagement?

Student-led conferences build the kind of skills that serve children well for life. To prepare for the conferences, Parker kids reflect on what they have accomplished so far in the year, how they are doing, and what goals they have going forward - what challenges they want to set for themselves. Then they sit down with their parents and show them samples of their work, discussing how they rate themselves on things like cooperating with peers, or with organization.

Building this kind of thinking goes beyond the more passive scenario where only the teacher assesses.  It is empowering and motivating and it teaches students that how they perform is really up to their own initiative. 

"When students assess themselves, they hold themselves to a higher standard," asserts Daniel Pink in his latest book, To Sell Is Human.  Here is a great article about Pink's ideas, How Teachers Can Sell Love of Learning to Students. It speaks to what we are doing at Parker - finding ways to give students a keen drive to achieve. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Our new friends are almost here!

We are waiting at the train station and are so excited for out visitors to arrive... 

And they did!  Everyone was united with a home stay family and all headed home for dinner and sleep.  No time for photos - Tomorrow - the first day at Parker! 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Our visitors are on their way!

Our ten student student-visitors and two teachers from St. Peter's School in Barcelona are on their way!  First stop, three days in Manhattan.  Language arts teacher Sarah Biondello will meet them at the airport and accompany them to museums, sightseeing and Spiderman.  On Sunday afternoon they will take the train to Albany where Parker families will meet them at the train station as they begin their home stays.

Students will attend classes for the week with their Parker sixth and seventh grade counterparts.  Special events: Welcome Assembly on Monday; potluck supper after school on Tuesday; field trip to the Capitol and State Museum on Wednesday; Bowling party on Thursday afternoon; Spring Sing and farewell party on Friday.  Students will spend the day with Parker families on Saturday and head home Sunday, March 24.  A whirlwind week for everyone - and a wonderful opportunity for cultural exchange, language practice, and new friendships!  Read more...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The human experience

Murry Jaros visited Parker yesterday and told his incredibly moving story of surviving during the Holocaust.  His wonderful gift to us was sharing his very personal and painful memories and also telling us about developing an iron will to survive at a young age.  Combined with hearing Francis Currey last week tell about his experiences leading to receiving the Medal of Honor, our middle school students have learned from these two people so much about life in 1944 and 1945 in Europe during World War II - and about what young people are capable of when faced with harrowing challenges. 

In an interview about his career as a history writer, author David McCullough says, "To write or understand history, you must try as best you can to put yourself in the shoes of those who lived in those other times... And in the end, it's the story that counts. I believe we need stories. They're an essential part of the human experience."

The stories told by Francis Currey and Murry Jaros brought the past to life at Parker.  It was our privilege to hear and is our responsibility to remember.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A good story

We had the privilege today of hearing Medal of Honor recipient Francis Currey speak about his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45.  He is pictured here with author Michael Collins who talked with Parker middle schoolers about finding different types of sources for research.  As a primary source for modern history, Mr. Currey was fascinating and a true hero, having defended a key bridge from German tanks with a group of seven infantrymen in Belgium.  Mr. Currey went back to Belgium in the '70's and encountered a German man who had been a soldier there at the time, forming a life-long friendship.  A moving story!

Students learned much about the writer, illustrator, and storyteller's craft from other guests Patrice Kindle, Sylvie Kantorovitz, Matt McElligott, Kent Busman, and our puppeteer favorite The Ivy Vine Players with Grian MacGregor.  There was a presentation from Market Block Books and everyone enjoyed the Used Book Sale.  A parade with a crazy cast of storybook characters rounded out a wonderful day.

See our Facebook page for more photos.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Moving!  It is so important for developing minds and overall health.  Here is a great article from Children and Nature Network: "Sitting is the New Smoking!"  Richard Louv says "A growing body of evidence indicates that children need far more activity, including unstructured play, to improve health, cognition and emotional well-being. Nature-based exercise appears to be especially effective."

Getting off our seats and onto our feet inside and out adds a priceless balance to our lives at Parker.  And it makes us smarter!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Maximizing the brain's ability to learn

K-1's performed their version of the Jan Brett story The Hat at assembly this morning.  They read the book, adapted it into a play, made their masks in art class, constructed a house and a hedgehog burrow, practiced and performed!  It's a great example of learning that is "doing" and that has great meaning for the students.  They had to work collaboratively, problem-solve and cooperate, master skills in reading, writing, and speaking, and to wrap it all up they had an appreciative audience of peers and parents.  Well done!

Dr. JoAnn Deak, who was here on Monday working with teachers and presenting a program for parents and educators, had this to say, "Every interaction a child has, during the course of a day, influences the adult that child will become.”  She confirmed how we teach by backing it up with the latest in neuroscience research and she challenged us to think about how to educate in today's overly visual world of technology.

JoAnn was, as one teacher put it, "perhaps the best presenter I have ever had the good fortune of hearing!"  She recommended this resource: the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan organized a forum of the 5 best brains in education today and have made the video free for the public on their website.

Many schools have asked parents and teachers to view each of the five 45 minute sections and then come to a discussion.  Sounds like a great idea!