Tales from Lower School

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Interdisciplinary Pocket People Project Continues Long-Standing First Grade Tradition

by Tillie Scarritt, Cara Finnerty, and Giovanni Pucci, First Grade Head Teachers 

Pocket People are a Calhoun tradition dating back nearly 35 years! These adorable characters have been cherished and saved by many Calhoun alumni and are even reputed to have their own reunions! And now, our current first graders have joined this long line of Calhouners…

Our “Pocket People” unit is an exercise in Calhoun’s progressive methodology and interdisciplinary, project-based learning. It is an integral part of the first grade social studies curriculum that revolves around “What Makes a Community,” reflecting Calhoun’s commitment to community and cooperation while placing great value on self-discovery and creative expression. 

Each child designs his/her own fabric doll out of muslin and then stuffs it with batting, small enough to fit in a pocket.  The children continue the project by making clothing and constructing a home for their pocket person.

Throughout the process, we discuss what people want versus what they need—and how they get those needs met. These discussions inevitably raise important questions: What about people without homes or jobs? Where and how do we get food? What services do we need for our community? How do people live together in crowded buildings? Why is there a need to compromise?

A crate becomes the foundation for the home; furnishings are crafted out of wood, cardboard and found objects. The assembled homes become a neighborhood. Students decide what is needed for the community and proceed to build stores, banks, movie theaters, hospitals and schools.

Collaborative work comes into play in the construction of these buildings and in decisions made within the community. These interactions provide students with invaluable experiences in problem solving, working collaboratively, and getting along with one another.

The building blocks of this project are many.  Math is an important element, as the children observe rules of symmetry and learn how to measure, weigh and estimate. One math activity involves measuring the length, height, and depth of each Pocket Person’s home, using Unifix cubes, rulers, or other math manipulatives. Scale and measurement are used when the children build their wooden crate homes, and when they try to weigh and balance their Pocket People. The children learn how to use the manipulatives and read a ruler when measuring the Pocket Person’s height. Blocks are often used to further expand the community.

Language arts skills are practiced during the whole life of the project. Each Pocket Person-- human or animal—is given its own “character.” Children write biographies, stories and poems about their Pocket People. The children also design a birth certificate for their Pocket Person, which engages language arts and math skills.  Completing the certificate requires the children to make a lot of decisions and gather information, including their Pocket Person’s name, birth date, time of birth, weight, height, place of birth, guardian’s name, a photo, and prints of both feet!

When the Pocket People have play dates, the children speak for them. Pocket People are, in fact, integral to the rich, wonderful dramatic role-playing that supports the social, emotional and cognitive development of each of our students.  They engage the children’s intellect and imagination, while exercising their math and language arts skills. In addition, this project provides a safe testing ground for the application of critical concerns such as issues of social justice.  It gives students agency as they embrace the complex responsibilities involved in creating a community of friends, even if they are only made of cloth!   

Posted by Anonymous on Friday April 15, 2016 at 09:18AM
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4th Grader Discovers New Way to Multiply by 6!

A great math breakthrough: fourth grader Baelee has uncovered an easier way to multiply large integers by six; check out this video!

Baelee made the discovery on her own while doing homework for her fourth grade math class, taught by Austin Applegate. Although Baelee’s assignment was simply to fill in a multiplication grid, her explorations of patterns during class activities—using manipulatives and number games—prepped her well to notice yet a new pattern....  

When Baelee revealed her innovative approach to Austin, he had her present her findings to fellow fourth graders and colleagues. Baelee’s classmates and several Calhoun math teachers tested the method with a variety of integers, and were amazed that it works every time! 

One of the teachers wowed was Michael Vercillo, who was doing his PEL teaching fellowship in Calhoun's Lower School when the fourth grader first revealed her discovery. In a blog describing Baelee's method, Michael writes, "This is the sort of curious, creative, exploratory mindset that Calhoun and other progressive schools are aiming to foster and encourage in their students.” 

Austin agrees, noting that Baelee's discovery is a also a great example of creating new knowledge. “It’s about inventing a new way of looking at multiplication," enthuses Austin. ”And it issuch a simple, elegant trick that it makes you say, ‘What a great idea; why didn't I think of that?’" 

Posted by Anonymous in math, multiplication, 4th grade, experiential learning on Thursday April 7, 2016 at 12:21PM
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Observation & Classification--In Silence!

First Graders Become Scientists

by Barbara Ackerman, LS science teacher, 74th Street.

In 1st grade science, we achieve the impossible--a lesson taught in total silence!  No words; only gestures and actions. 

With an apparently random bunch of objects placed on a table (colorful Legos, buttons, pom-poms, beads and feathers), we silently and thoughtfully begin to sort the items into groups. At first the students are a bit puzzled, but soon, after some careful observation, a pattern emerges.

Silently begin sorting objects by color. The exercise is then repeated, this time sorting by texture.  As the children begin to realize the parameters of the groupings, they are invited to help in sorting. Before long, all of the students are working as a team to gleefully sort all of the objects on the table, still (mostly!) in silence.

The science lesson of the day: Classification. 

To end the lesson, the students are given a sheet with all sorts of seemingly random objects.  It is up to the children to classify these objects, based on characteristics of their own choosing.  There are many possibilities:  Alive and Not Alive.  Animal and Not Animal.  Wheels and No Wheels.  The possibilities seem endless . . .We have a discussion about why scientists classify. 

Scientists classify by all sorts of characteristics so they can find things more easily and help organize fields of study.  We talk about how we use classification at home, as well: socks in the sock drawer, Legos in the Lego bin.  You certainly wouldn’t want to keep your underwear with your shoes!

Directly after our science lesson on classification, the children enjoyed a snack.  A potpourri of items were offered:  veggie sticks, grapes, chips and crackers.  Without any prompting, the children began sorting their snack into groups, saying “We are doing classification!”

Posted by Anonymous in 1st grade, science on Sunday March 13, 2016 at 11:57AM
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What Does 100 Look Like?

Counting, Collaborating and Creating:
The 4's Recipe for the 100 Day Museum Project 

By Danita Harrison and Elissa Kompanek, 4's Head Teachers

Every year the students in Little Calhoun put together a museum marking the 100th day of school by contributing a myriad of projects, items and activities that reflect the number 100. This year, on March 2, children and teachers from every cluster were invited to visit this year’s exhibit. Parents were invited to stop by during drop-off, as well.

Here’s a peek at the process for our 4's clusters:

 Leading up to the 100 Day Museum

There was so much buzz around the room about the upcoming 100th day of school! One 4’s cluster was marking off the days on a chart in the meeting area, and periodically walked up to the kindergarten classroom to double-check that we were “on schedule.” When we realized we were at ninety days, we began discussing how we could help put together some projects to contribute to the 100th Day Museum.

We began to brainstorm ideas with the children to elicit ideas for the exhibit. Many good ideas floated around, like collaging 100 pieces of recycled cardboard, building with 100 Magna-Tiles, painting a box and gluing or placing 100 things inside, or donating 100 books.

The children were very excited as they worked alongside each other, painting a box to help fulfill the idea of one of their beloved friends. The project also inspired them to start counting whatever they could find in the classroom. 

Although we had under fifty seats in the room (we counted the couch and stools as seats), the children enjoyed the group activity.

In meetings and around the room we continued to explore counting to 100—counting our cubbies, snap cubes and goldfish crackers! (That last one didn’t work out well, since the children would eat them as fast as they counted them and quickly forget what number they were at!)

One of the children thought there might be 100 chairs in the room; this led to a room-wide count-a-thon. We used numbered Post-Its on every seat (chairs, stools and the couch), lined them up in numerical order and counted. (There weren't 100 chairs, but the children had fun doing it!) 

We then decorated all 100-numbered Post-Its and put them in groups of 3 to 5 each. These were attached to a long piece of recycled cardboard, with 20 in each of five rows. This was significant; through these cooperative explorations, the children were building a sense of number in a multi-sensory manner while they are counting, using one-to-one correspondence. Having the Post-Its in five rows also enabled them to notice patterns.This project so fascinated them that the Post-It construct is now a fixture in the room; the children continue to go over to it individually or in small groups.

In cluster meeting, we continued to explore the idea of counting in groups of tens as a way to count big groups of numbers faster. One child got so excited, he attempted to write numbers 1 through 50 by using the chart on the wall as a guide. For an art project, we put our hands to good use-- painting and tracing them for a mural of 100 hands to donate to the museum.

On the day of the museum, the children loved seeing their collaborative contributions to the museum as well as those of the other clusters, and many were seen practicing their counting skills as they circled around the room.


Posted by Anonymous in art, math, 4's, collaboration on Friday March 4, 2016
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3's Explore Storytelling Through Art

By Alicia Klein and Christy Kong, 3's Head Teachers

Reading and storytelling are an essential part of our daily classroom activities in the 3's. During meeting time, stories are read, sung, reproduced on the flannel board and shared. Questions are posed to the children to reinforce story details and help broaden their understanding of content.

During classroom work time, paper, markers and crayons are always available for the children to select. Many children have begun to dictate their own stories and ask the teachers to help them write notes, letters and books. This inspired a project for the art table that spanned several days. One on one with a teacher, each child was given white paper and Sharpies. They were each asked to tell a story as they drew with the Sharpies. Story elements and story structure were reinforced through teacher questions as the children expanded on their ideas and gave more details.

The children were challenged to use descriptive words and express feelings. Finally, they each gave their paper a color wash with liquid watercolor. The artists were able to highlight elements of their illustrations through color placement and blending. These are as amazingly unique and creative as the children! In the few days following this project, we have noticed an increased interest in drawing and writing during work time.


Posted by Anonymous in 3's, art, storytelling, reading on Wednesday March 2, 2016
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Kindergartners Launch Food Study

A Great Example of Emergent Curriculum: 
How “Student Voice” Helps Direct Curriculum 

by Heather Sayles Jupiter '92 and Carl Bellamy, Kindergarten Head Teachers; RIchard Amelius and Yvonne Primus, Kindergarten Associate Teachers

The most exciting news item from two of our kindergarten clusters is the launch of a food study!

In the beginning of the year, teachers got together to map out our year, and we decided as a team that we wanted to devote a concentrated period of time to exploring emergent curriculum and extended project work.

Emergent curriculum is, simply explained: the exploration, questioning, and deepening of understanding of a topic or idea that naturally emerges from the work, play, and conversations of the class. Teachers look for lines of interest and inquiry that happen amongst kids (or even a small group) and then experiment with the potential expansion into a broader study. This is such an exciting endeavor for teachers and students and we are really excited about embarking on this journey together.

Our project idea emerged out of a simple lunchtime conversation between four children about dumplings and bloomed into a larger discussion about the yumminess of Chinese food. We started asking kids about what they knew about restaurants in general. We wondered together if we were to create our own restaurant, how would we do it? What would we need? What would we serve? Ideas about menu items and even interior design began flowing and we realized we had a strong common interest.

Now it was time to include the rest of the kids. A simple discussion about "yum" versus "yuck" foods and personal preferences brought the others into the fold. Teachers began to brainstorm and plan some restaurant study ideas when we began to realize that not everyone actually has access to restaurants, and that while many of us have experienced eating out, the experience is not necessarily available to everyone for a variety of reasons ranging from financial access to allergies and safety.

Since the beginning of the year, we have been very busy chefs. We have baked so many different dishes and delights including birthday cake, guacamole, bread, and corn on the cob. In order to keep up the excitement of our previous conversations, we decided to broaden the topic to food. We brought the idea to the kids in the form of an idea web and asked them to brainstorm different topics related to food. Initially students gave us small examples of kinds of food like chicken, and sushi. So we turned that into a topic of its own – "kinds of food." Then they began to think bigger. Here are some of the ideas they came up with:

Making this web together was such an amazing and exciting experience and we knew we had plenty to work with. Before the break, we decided to explore one of our topics together – "kinds of food." So we composed a long list of foods that we knew.

Next we challenged the kids to find connections. Some kids noticed that a few of our foods are yummy together like peanut butter and jelly. But we pushed them to deepen their thinking. Could we come up with some groups to separate the list into? That's when kids began suggesting different food groups and we came up with: dairy, meat, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans, vegan foods, foods from around the world, and finally "sometimes foods," which we decided sounded more inclusive and less judgey than "desserts" or "junk food." We actually created our own food groups!

In order to continue to provoke our students thinking, we created a dramatic kitchen area. We put out play food, dishes, utensils, cloth, restaurant checks, folded paper for making menus, empty menu sheaths and a cash register.



At this point in our study, it seemed like a good time to take a field trip and talk to an expert. Who better than Chef Bobo? So in order to learn more about him and his kitchen, we came up with a list of questions and, despite frigid temperatures, trekked over to "Big Calhoun," where we met the chef in the Calhoun Commons and began our interview. We learned that Chef Bobo began cooking at age six and that his first teacher was his grandmother. He explained that Calhoun gets all of its ingredients from local farmers and that he and his other chefs make everything from scratch and never use processed foods. We also learned that Chef Bobo is from New Orleans and that his favorite thing to cook is gumbo! After the Q&A, Chef Bobo took us on a behind-the-scenes tour through the maze of the kitchen. Inspired by our trip, we moved on to explore more of the topics on our idea web like “places to get food” and “jobs in food."

As our study continued, we had the good fortune to meet with another expert! Jarno's dad, Matt, who is a restaurateur, came in and talked to us about how restaurants really work. We learned about all the different jobs that people do behind the scenes. Matt helped us set up a mock restaurant. Some kids were customers, while others held job titles like maître d', chef, expediter, vegetable chef, grill master, food runner and dishwasher. Who knew how many people were involved in preparing food in restaurants?

After the dramatic play, we had a chance to ask Matt for some advice. We asked what the next steps should be to open our own restaurant and what jobs we would need to do. He advised us that we needed a name, some advertising, equipment, a menu, and a variety of different workers. Our ideas about starting our own operation were really beginning to solidify.

In our next meeting we began to brainstorm ideas for a name. After engaging in a bit of dramatic process, we elected the name The Mountain Goat Café, which we will be opening soon.

Meanwhile, we began to broaden our food study into an exploration of food cultures around the world. We made a list of cultures that we have experienced which include Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, Ethiopian, English, Spanish, Greek, French, Korean, Norwegian, and Caribbean. These kids are definitely cultured eaters!

We had a chance to talk with a very special expert--our own associate teacher, Yvonne. Yvonne told us all about the foods and flavors of the Caribbean island where she grew up, Saint Vincent. She told us that most people grow their own fruits and vegetables and buy few food items in stores. She told us about the fruits that grow on her property and showed us some of the spices that she collected during her last visit. We looked at ginger, cinnamon bark, cloves and nutmeg and learned how they grow, about their flavors, and how they are used in food. We all got to smell each spice. The kids had so many insightful and impromptu questions for Yvonne and we were really impressed by their interviewing skills. Thank you, Yvonne for such a special morning!

Stay tuned to hear how our study continues to develop.

[Read more about STUDENT VOICE, and how it's supported at Calhoun.]


Posted by Anonymous on Friday February 5, 2016
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Reflections from a First Day of School

By Alison Max Rothschild '85, LS Director

In all of my time at Calhoun, I’m not sure we’ve ever had such a smooth and relaxed start to the school year!  As I walked through both buildings over the first few days, I saw joy everywhere I looked.  Children were happy, teachers were happy and parents were perhaps the happiest of all to have the kids back at school after the long summer break! 

 Many of you know that my two-year-old daughter began her first school experience last week and as I wrote in my ubiquitous “first day of school” Facebook post, it is a humbling experience being on the parenting side of starting school.  All of the things I knew to be true about the importance of student/parent/teacher relationships came to life for me as I handed my baby girl to her teachers for the first time. 

Entrusting a school and its teachers to care for and influence your child is a huge step for parents and I want all of you to know how honored we are that you have put your trust in us. While we may not do everything perfectly all the time, one thing is for sure—your child(ren) will be loved and respected every day they are at school with us.  Of course, we also plan to inspire, lead, facilitate and direct each child in his/her cognitive, personal and physical development; but while doing so, we will always remember that the students are your babies and we will care for them as if they were our own.

Thanks for your part in getting the year off to such a fantastic start. Looking forward to a wonderful year together.

Posted by Anonymous on Friday October 2, 2015
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