Ending Well

Head of Middle School Susan Palmer writes about the end of the school year, both how to approach the end, and what happens in the last few days before the summer.

I have often counseled my own two children about ending well – no slammed doors, no demonstrated loss of interest, no placing one foot out the door before the current responsibility has officially ended. It’s a good life lesson for our students to continue to give 100% even in the waning days of the school year, or a job, or a project. In schools, we often use culminating assemblies as formal acknowledgements of “ending well.” Of course all of the ceremonial recognition of the end of one stage of learning and the beginning of another are treasured moments, ones commemorated across the educational community at all levels.

In fact, “ending well” can be seen in the Middle School on a much smaller, but arguably more effective, level. Created by our teachers to promote a synthesis of knowledge and skills, these activities are fun, positive, and upbeat. Last week, sixth graders participated in the Amazing Race, where they raced across campus to stations that required them to recall some key piece of history knowledge from their year. Fifth graders planned and designed poetry cafés, hugely successful gatherings for parents where students highlighted their own poetry in the midst of a café complete with food, decorations, programs, and more. Seventh graders presented “happiness projects” – culminating activities stemming from advisory study of positive psychology. And eighth graders ended their year with scenes from Shakespeare, student-created videos, a one-act play, final musical concerts, and more.

All of these final events represent high levels of student engagement. Their teachers have created opportunities for them to stay the course until the very end. Our students end the year proud of their accumulation of knowledge and skills, active participants all. Built-in reflection is a critical element of learning, and students who can look back at how far they have come will be ready for the next set of challenges.

Last August, we challenged the students in the Middle School to take action, to find a way to make a difference and to be the difference. In ways big and small, they have met this challenge. They and their teachers have come to the final few days able to look back and assess all that they have learned. It’s been a wonderful year and it is definitely ending well!

Fourth Grade Stock Brokers Learn About More Than Math

Head of Lower School Michael Simpson writes about how much the fourth-graders learn during their stock market unit.

If you were to walk into the second floor computer lab last week you might have thought you stumbled upon a roomful of stock brokers rather than a class of elementary school math students. You’d have seen them checking the feeds from various news organizations, researching the latest quotes and trends on NASDAQ and NYSE, filling out purchase requests and delivering them to the head broker (their math teacher), and suggesting stocks or asking questions on e- message boards. Fourth graders were engrossed in the annual stock market unit, and they are loved it!

Mrs. White began the unit several years ago, back when stocks were still listed as fractions. She saw it as an opportunity to apply math skills to the real world: fractions for the stocks, decimals with the money, and percentages with brokers’ fees. She expects her students to learn how national and world news can affect the economy. She describes the stock market unit as intertwining math skills they’ve practiced in school with real world math. I’m not sure who enjoys it more: the kids, because as one said, “It feels real—it feels like you’re a businessman!” or Mrs. White, because she loves math and loves watching kids get excited about math.

Although Mrs. White’s been teaching the unit for several years, she updates it with the latest technological tools. She conducts class in the computer lab so she can make use of both the Smartboard and a computer for every child. She begins the unit with a Power Point presentation on the history and basic concept of the stock market, complete with video of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She teaches them necessary vocabulary. She teaches the class how a company develops from private to public, how to fill out a purchase request, and how to figure the broker’s commission. The first assignment is to note objects and experiences in the world around them that are produced by a corporation that might offer a stock. She shows them how to examine trends. She directs students to check the stock pages of the New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, and Reuters. Each is RSS active, and Mrs. White teaches the class about regional, national, and international perspectives. She gives each student $5,000 and a checkbook. Mrs. White facilitates the discussion by providing a message board for each homeroom; after just four days, 567 messages had been posted! Each class typically starts with a short lesson, and then she lets them loose to capitalize. They spend class researching, filling out purchase requests, monitoring the news, and messaging each other about stocks. The time must fly by.

This unit of study exemplifies what we value in the Lower School: authentic application of basic skills, planning and predicting, collaboration with peers, fun, appropriate use of technology, and higher level thinking such as synthesis, evaluation, and analysis. The kids eat it up, parents participate, and the teacher finds great reward in her students’ learning.

Why Walk When You Can Klaw?

Head of Early Childhood Kim Barnes writes about how conversations turn into learning opportunities all around the Greenhill campus.

A Conversation before School on Thursday, May 9, 2013

“I know I can walk up backward, but I have never tried to walk down backward,” said a teacher. “Is it scary?”

“No,” replied the four-year-old, “it’s the same. It’s not scary.”

“I think it is because my body feels like it is going to fall and my head wants to turn and look.”

“Just try it!” was the reply, “You can do it. Trust me.” (He must have heard that somewhere.)

“You know, when Anansi* goes walking, walking, walking, what would it be when he goes walking backwards?”

“You just say it backwards. Sound it out,” says the child.

“Sound what out?”

“Sound out walk backwards.”

“What would that be?”

“You know! /k/!!”

“Then what?”

Long pause – “/l/”

“Ok?”

With a roll of eyes, “/w/!”

“Wait, there’s no vowel. We have to have a vowel in every word.”

A second grader listening to the conversation and also walking down the berm backward joins in, “Do you mean the a in walk?”

The four-year-old looks at the adult with a puzzled look and without saying a word questions with his eyes.

“I don’t know. Is that the vowel in walk?” said the teacher.

The second grader assured that was correct and she began to spell walk backwards – k, l, a, w.

“Okay, now sound it out like he said.”

(Sidebar – When a second grader is walking down a hill backward and trying to sound out a word, you can literally see the cogs turning and working in tandem to figure the word out.)

“/k/ /l/ /a/ /w/ – claw. Walk backwards is claw. Klaw!”

As she walks up the hill backward, the second grader begins to chant and add hand motions, “I am klawing, klawing, klawing up the green hill.” The pre-kindergartner runs to join her. Up and down they go, backward all the way.

Conversation like this happens all over the Greenhill campus, all day long – our campus is one large classroom and each walk is a walk of wonder and questioning. Each recess is a time of imagination and pondering and each step may unearth a treasure or solidify a lesson. Hmmm, I wonder if they are ready for gniklaw.

*Anansi is a trickster spider in African folklore that the students learn about during pre-k.