A Day in the Museum

Welcome to the Salon des Beaux Arts, a model of integrated teaching and learning. When traditional subject walls come down, opportunities for learning expand. At the seventh grade Salon, students focus on the creative process. Using specific Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists as inspiration, seventh graders create their own art, write in the voice of their artist, learn about historically significant movements, dialogue in the language of the artist, and present their learning to both peers and families.

Sounding exactly like every museum docent you have ever heard, one student described the work of Vincent Van Gogh to an audience at the Salon. She focused on the details of Van Gogh’s life, presented her understanding of Post-Impressionism, and interpreted examples of the artist’s work with clarity and depth. The stars, the crows, and the artificial light present in Van Gogh’s paintings were all significantly connected to his troubled life.

Another student read a letter he wrote in the voice of the artist, including details of his life and work. A Spanish language dialog took place in the Prado where students defended their favorite paintings. Two students wore “I (heart) Dali” t-shirts. Another student presented examples of the artist Joseph Cornell’s box constructions, including one of her own. In one room, a student wrote a Chinese language poem on the white board while another student translated it into English.

The Salon took place in seven different classrooms last Tuesday morning. Each location had a master of ceremonies and a delicious spread of fruit and cheese for afterwards. Visiting parents, grandparents, and Greenhill faculty and staff were entranced by the depth and variety of knowledge. Every single seventh grader had the opportunity to present some aspect of their work on this project.

The Salon des Beaux Arts features the very best of what we do here. The seventh grade teaching team collaborates across departments to add significance and depth to the learning. Student choice and creativity are highlighted by the many facets of each presentation. Because of the complexity and context provided them, students connect with the artists forever. Find any seventh grader and ask them about their artist, especially if you are in the mood for a thorough conversation on Magritte or Monet. You’ll think you are in Paris!

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Just like the television show of the same name, Greenhill is a place that doesn’t seem to shut down. Last Saturday, for example, the gates were open at 6:00 am. Not long after that, Admissions Office staffers hammered directional signs into the ground and prepared to push carts of testing materials to the Lower School. It was still dark.

By 8:00, eager families with little ones in tow checked in to begin their admissions assessments. Parents waited patiently in the cafeteria sipping on coffee, chatting, and watching the clock. This year hundreds of students are testing for admission to Greenhill from pre-Kindergarten through grade 12.

Several miles away, there was a different kind of anxiety in the air. Faculty, administrators, and students, led by Chinese teacher Warren Frerichs and Head of Upper School David Braemer, waited eagerly for Korean Airlines Flight 31 to arrive from Inchon, South Korea. On the flight were our guests from WeolPyeong Middle School in Ulsan, South Korea – three administrators and fifteen students. After an endless wait at US Customs, the guests finally emerged to cheers, smiles, and signs of welcome from their Greenhill hosts. An afternoon nap and a Tex-Mex dinner provided just the pick-me-up the students needed before they joined their Greenhill host families on Sunday morning. A week of hospitality, cultural exchange, and mutual friendship followed.

Back on campus, the sports scene was just heating up. The Greenhill Invitational Swim Meet, boys and girls basketball games, and boys and girls soccer games – all against Houston rival St. John’s – brought out the fans for Winter Spirit Day. To promote their sports contests, members of varsity teams opened carpool doors in the Lower School last week, and they were rewarded with lots of young fans in attendance at Saturday’s games. Whether munching on popcorn in the gym or bundling up to stay warm outside, the fans had plenty to cheer about at this community event.

By late afternoon, the fields and gyms were empty. The campus seemed quiet, with just a few desk lights burning here and there as faculty members put the finishing touches on advisory comments and mid-trimester reports.

At Greenhill, the extended classroom is always open. Learning opportunities abound, whether hosting international friends, defending a goal, leading a tour, or practicing dance steps for the musical. A vibrant campus means there is always a way to become involved in the life of the school, always events to bring the community together, always ways to celebrate Greenhill. There will be another Saturday like this one very soon, where the learning takes place outside the traditional classroom. Come join us. It is something to see.

21st Century Discovery

Early in the school year, I visited Mike Krueger’s tenth grade biology class. In teams of three, students huddled over a jelly-like substance, measuring devises, small erasable white boards, and cutting tools. I ask Mike what was happening, and he said that the students were investigating the essential question, “Why are cells so small?”

The investigation consisted of measuring the percentage of color change of blocks of agar and determining the efficiency of that change – actually absorption of acid. The students began with large, medium, and small cubes. They submerged the cubes in acid and then measured the percentage of color change over a predetermined time. They quickly noted that the smaller the cube, the more efficient the absorption and color change. In the course of the lab, Mike conferred with lab groups, challenged assumptions, and offered options for continuing the investigation after class was over.

The students’ white boards displayed calculations that demonstrated their growing understanding of the surface area to volume ratio, a concept that comes up again and again in tenth grade biology. The students determined that the cells with the largest surface area to volume ratio do the work of cells most efficiently. A recent conversation with Barry Ide, who teaches tenth grade biology as well as AP Biology, offers analogies to car radiators, polar bears, and mitochondria, real life examples of how the surface area to volume ratio works.

This biology lab is an example of 21st Century learning at its best. Students uncover knowledge as they seek to answer an overarching question. They collaborate, explain, question, plan, observe, and measure. They manipulate data until they understand exactly what it is telling them. And they end up with an enduring understanding that weaves through their biology curriculum as well as through real life experiences. Now that’s good teaching.

It is a very short leap from tenth grade biology at Greenhill to Rohan Menon’s (Class of 2008) work at Georgia Tech. A junior majoring in biomedical engineering, Rohan recently co-authored a paper pertaining to the development of synthetic blood vessels. The American Chemical Society accepted the paper for publication. Rohan’s mother cites the nurturing he received at Greenhill as contributing to his budding success.

Our science labs are places of discovery. Every day, our faculty emphasizes thinking skills so essential to workplace success. Keep your eyes open for Rohan and others as they forge ahead with new and exciting knowledge.