Oh, Deer!

The second graders are divided into two groups; some are deer and some are environmental resources.  Outside on a beautiful Texas fall day, science teacher Cathleen Garcia is directing the lively activity.  As the deer population grows, their environmental resources shrink.  Children dash from side to side seeking shelter or food or water from their classmates.  And what about the involvement of man?  When the farmer sprays pesticide on his corn, the mama deer can give birth to babies with problems.  Will those babies have equal access to food and water?  What will happen to them?  Will they become prey to one of the natural predators in the environment?

The second graders grapple with these questions as they shift roles and run to secure their basic necessities.  After each round, Cathleen stops and de-briefs with the children.  What just happened?  Why isn’t there enough water to go around?  Look how many deer we have now.  That day, our students learned basic environmental concepts – balance in nature, factors that affect populations, and the element of change in ecosystems. 

In my walks around campus, I spot lots of movement.  Eighth graders transform into salsa dancers in Spanish class.  They respond to directions in Spanish and reflect the cultural joy of moving to a Latin beat.   In Atlantic Experience I, students stand and move to a spot on a continuum that reflects their positions on controversial issues.  Once there, they defend their position to their classmates.  Literature students debate “Did George do the right thing?” and move to the corner of the room where others of like beliefs join them.  Together they decide the determining factors in their decision.

In Christel McGuigan’s Spanish II class, the Race of the Burros is the eagerly anticipated way to review material, synthesize concepts, and see translated material in context.  Students work in teams on review material. They run to the teacher to check their work, return to group to re-work, and keep running from group to teacher to board to advance their burro.  They can see a practical use for accuracy when the winning team has its responses displayed on the Smart Board and rest of the class reviews the material in a calmer, more reflective way.

Never discount the element of fun that comes with movement, and with that fun can come real learning.

Upper School English teacher Linda Woolley recently divided her students into four countries with individual codes of conduct.   All countries maintain set greetings, conversational topics, and acceptable body language.  Emissaries are then sent to other countries to interact with those who share different cultural norms of communication.  The object of the lesson: to allow participants to authentically feel what it is like to step into whole new culture.  Qualities of empathy, respect, and appreciation are the outcomes of this lesson.

The mind-body connection is well-documented, but it becomes especially evident when I see the understanding that results from the incorporation of movement into the learning day.  Final verdict: you have to hustle to keep up with all the learning at Greenhill.

The Stars At Night

Ponyboy and Cherry at the drive-in!  If it’s been a long time since you read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, you might not remember the critical scene between the two at the Nightly Double.  Under the stars, these two young people find common ground despite their differing social affiliations, the Socs and the Greasers. 

The Outsiders, published in 1967, has been called the first ever young adult novel and was actually written when the author was in high school.   The Outsiders is the required summer reading book for all seventh graders at Greenhill, and they typically begin the year immersed in the two rival gangs and the struggles of the Curtis family.   

Written from the perspective of fourteen-year old Ponyboy, the novel connects our students with the characters and as well as its relevance to current times.  But a drive-in?  What student in the Class of 2016 has even been to a drive-in?  Seventh grade Composition teacher Adam Holt offered a great writing opportunity to his students … head to the Galaxy, a drive-in theater in Corsicana, to experience the atmosphere, see the first run movie Secretariat, and return to write about the night. 

Over fifty seventh graders took him up on his offer.  Organized by super-mom Dani Butowsky and braving some serious tornadic activity, a caravan of cars headed to Ellis County and one of the few operating drive in theaters in North Texas. 

In their follow-up writing pieces, the students do not have much to say about the actual movie.  Their papers, instead, focus on positioning the car just right, hearing the sound track through the radio or through the speakers, and ordering snacks at the snack bar.  It seems that several car batteries required jump starts after using the radio for the entire movie, but that was a minor inconvenience.

Seventh grade student Megan noted, “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would not have known about it if it were not for this assignment…The movie was touching, but what made it even better was that I got to see it at the drive-in.  The drive-in makes watching a movie even more exciting.”

Megan’s classmate Sahil offered a different perspective: “During the movie, I looked up once.  What I saw were stars everywhere.  I remember that the last time I saw them was on the fifth grade campout because of air pollution.  They were really nice to see that night, with clouds and lightning off in the distance.”

So our seventh graders did not see a Paul Newman movie, like the characters in The Outsiders, but they were able to place themselves right in that very same environment, forging a connection to learning that can’t be accomplished in the classroom.