Friday, April 24, 2015

Celebrating Shakespeare and the Earth

We had an absolute ball on Shakespeare Night.  The  9-day artist-in-residence program with dramatist/clown Sean Fagan and his crew brings every child in the school onto the stage.  Seano works with our teachers and the kids themselves to adapt everything from a song or a storybook, to Macbeth, making a magical evening of theater.  The kids had crazy fun on stage, reveling in language, pratfall, song and plot line - and in each other's successes.

We are all a little tired today, so a buddy hike celebrating Earth Day was just the thing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Can we innovate in reading and writing?

Let's take "innovation" out of science class and apply it to reading and writing.

In this great article by Nancie Atwell, winner of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, Atwell says that the most powerful innovation in her 40 years as a middle school English teacher was giving her students time and choice as readers and writers.

That's a powerful idea in an era of textbook and test-driven solutions for education's failures, and of course it is the same philosophy we adhere to at Parker.  Read Atwell's article!  It is filled with great examples of students who tune in to their intellectual lives through developing a passion for reading and writing.

Our eighth graders are preparing the oral part of their thesis projects now, looking for ways to make a compelling presentation about an idea for which they have developed expertise.  6-7's will be preparing persuasive speeches about third world uses for hydrogen fuel cell engines after a week of building such engines.  They will deliver their impassioned talks to executives at local company Plug Power.

Reading, writing and speaking that is attached to themes, big ideas, and high-interest topics is a huge motivator for kids.  Their hunger for more drives the practice that is needed to become more skilled. Teachers don't need to wheedle, push or pull the kids along.  They can set the stage for discussion and intellectual curiosity to blossom, make DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time a daily ritual, and stand back.  A great librarian helps, too.

Read more in 2-3 teacher Lynn Schuster's blog Here in the 2-3's or in K-1 teacher Jennifer Gresens blog posts about writing and reading.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kids need to play

As our country has increasingly embraced the academic orientation of the educational reform movement, many children no longer have the opportunity for imaginative play, particularly after they enter kindergarten. They therefore lack the foundational skills that are linked to play: memory, emotional self-regulation, oral language and literacy, perspective-taking, and social competence.  It is these so-called “soft skills” that enable children to succeed in elementary school and beyond.  
                                                                                             ~ Laurie Levy in her blog Still Advocating

There is a reason that children love to play.  It is a natural and developmental way of learning.  Laurie Levy, founder of an innovative preschool in Chicago, writes in her article Play Needs to Follow Kids to Kindergarten, about the essential skills gained through imaginative play.  

Play is a renewing and refreshing part of the day for students of all ages.  The tinkering, social negotiating, roll-play and enjoyment  - and the choices involved in deciding what to play and with whom - are as important as the hour for math, music or reading.  Thank goodness at Parker we have the freedom and philosophy to give importance to play beyond preschool and to hold it inviolate in a fully scheduled school day.

Not lost in translation

This year we admitted our first student from abroad - Xingtao Liu from China. It has been an amazing year from the perspective of all of our students, our teachers, the host family, and of course, Xingtao himself.

Xingtao's grasp of English has become nuanced and deep.  He has become a full part of his host family's life and the community of the school.  Xingtao told his host parents in his Student-Led Conference that he had learned everything in more depth this year.

This morning, he was part of the Skype interview with a candidate from China for next year's 7th grade.  Xingtao and the interviewee conversed in both Mandarin and English (and then he translated for Laura, our admission director and me.)  We asked Xingtao to describe his experiences here to the student on the computer screen, which he did in lilting Chinese.  We asked him to translate what he had said.

"Chinese education and American education are different.  In China it's more about skills. Here at Parker it's more about the personality.  You learn how to be a person."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How often do students get to do important work?

Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom -- work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful -- that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.                           ~Ron Berger

Ron Berger is an amazing educator.  He used to teach fifth grade in Western Massachusetts, and is now Chief Program Officer at Expeditionary Learning Schools.  He wrote two books that we use as a guide for how we teach at Parker: A Culture of Quality and An Ethic of Excellence.  I love these books.  

I recommend that you read an article he wrote that is part of a series about Deeper Learning in Edutopia, Highlighting Student Work. Ron writes about the exceptional work that is possible for every student to produce.  When students have projects with an authentic purpose, that are done for real reasons and audiences beyond the teacher, they can rise to heights they didn't know were possible.  

This is what we strive for at Parker.  Stream to River in 2-3 and 6-7, the Thesis Project in 8th, and our upcoming hydrogen fuel cell project with local company Plug Power all come to mind.  When 6-7's present their persuasive arguments about energy to the executives at Plug Power, their ideas and delivery will matter.  High stakes - high expectations - high motivation - high achievement.