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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Happy Chanukah with Still Life Studies from the Blue Room

Our preschoolers regularly practice careful observation. This is a life skill, preparing them for really looking at what's in front of them, a great skill to have in Science classes later on, and in life in general.

For Chanukah, the four-year-olds in our Blue Room classroom studied Chanukah menorahs and drew their forms utilizing light tables. Drawing, in turn, builds fine motor skills. How much can children transform what they see in front of them into lines on a piece of paper? And of course there is the aspect of learning the characteristics of a Chanukah menorah: How many spots of lights are there? And how are they arranged? Why is one higher or apart from the others? How is one menorah different from another?

Then, water coloring followed their drawings, and that incorporates learning how this different art material behaves on paper. Does it do what you want it to do? When you think about it, a lot is involved in creating a still life like this, especially when you're four years old.

Who knew that Chanukiot could look this whimsical, and this beautiful? Happy Chanukah!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Preschoolers Study Ocean Life

Sea anemone habitat
Our four-year-olds preschoolers recently decided to learn about ocean life. Each child chose an animal she or he was interested in and researched it. After watching a video and learning about the animal, each child went to the art supply room to select materials to create a diorama of the animal's habitat.

Sea anemone eat fish. They are jelly fish's cousin and shoot off poison. They can live on hermit crabs.

This project was an amazing journey for each child. It touched on different domains of child development, such as social, emotional, cognitive and language development. Most importantly, what began as an individual research project became a communal endeavor, and students learned a lot from each other.

Sea jellies are everywhere. They come in different sizes and shapes and colors. They have no bones, eyes, ears, brains.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Our Core Values Grounded in Judaism

As we begin this new school year, we'd like to share our Core Values. Formulating them is an effort that began last year by asking, "What is our WHY?" and it's a project we are still working on. Our values guide us daily, and they are what we strive for when we reflect on how we can do better.

#1 Teach Children, Not Subjects

In our approach to teaching and learning, we strive for academic excellence in both Judaic and General Studies with the goal of our students learning because of a love of learning. This is accomplished by starting with the child first and caring about each child.

#2 Joyful Judaism

We value promoting a positive relationship with Judaism. We strive to create positive Jewish experiences in and out of the classroom where a strong Jewish identity is built, a love and connection to the learning of Torah occurs, joyful performance of Mitzvot (Jewish commandments) and Chesed (acts of kindness) are created, and where a love and positive relationship with Israel and its people are made.

#3 Jewish Unity

We value, appreciate, and respect the many different Jews that make up the Jewish people. We believe we are stronger together than apart. We strive to promote Jewish community, celebrate individual spirituality, and honor our shared heritage, commitment to Mitzvot and Halacha (Jewish law). We aim to build a strong connection with the land, state and people of Israel and above all, we appreciate the beauty of each and every Jew.

#4 Respect for All Humanity

We value, love, and respect all of Humanity and creation. We believe everyone was created in the image of G-d and has inherent holiness. We strive to teach and model respect for all individuals, our school, and the world.

Our values are Jewish values, and we can't take credit where it is not due. Below are each of our values and the related Jewish source.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

21st Century Ways to Convince Pharaoh to Let the Jewish People Go

After reviewing the story of Passover, our Kindergarten teachers decided to give the discussion of the Ten Plagues a little 21st century twist, and posed the following question to the children:

"What could Moses and the Jewish people have done or said to Pharaoh to convince him to let them go free, only using the power of persuasion, and without the punishments of the ten plagues?"

Understanding that this question is rather deep and challenging, the teacher offered the following simpler question:

“What if the teacher decided that we stop going to the playground every day. What would you tell the teacher to change her mind?”

Elad: “We need to make our muscles stronger.”

Annette: “It helps our legs.”

Louie: “We need to let out all our power.”

The teacher paused for a minute and asked the children to think about the fact that we have circle time after the playground, and how are we expected to behave during this time. Might playground time help us?

The children commented that...

“...this will help us focus”
“...we can learn better”
“...we will not want to play anymore”

The teacher expressed her approval and moved on to the main objective, suggesting that the class act out this scenario: the teacher would pretend to be Pharaoh, and the children would be the Jewish people trying to convince Pharaoh to let them go. The children were very excited and accepted the invitation to act out the story.

Vinnie: “We will not listen to you any more and run away.”

Teacher: “I am the king, and you must follow my orders!”

Maddie: “Do you remember the golden rule, Pharaoh?”

Teacher: “Of course I do, I made it, and it is says that you need to obey my rules.”

The teacher paused and reminded the children that as slaves the Jewish people did not have the leverage to make ‘threats,’ or ‘speak rudely,’ and that more importantly, in the 21st century we use words and try to have a positive exchange of ideas. We also need to listen to others, and we need to make a persuasive argument and convince the other person. Moreover, we also need to ask ourselves:

“What would Pharaoh gain/ benefit from letting the Jewish people go?”

After a quiet moment, a few hands went up, and the dialogue/dramatization continued.

Louie: “We will pay you money, Pharaoh.”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “I like that, but this is not enough.”

Raanan: ”What if we made you a promise to finish building the whole city, would you then let us go?”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “This is starting to sound like something I can work with. Good thinking, slaves!”

Then the teacher said: “It is very important for me as the king to hear from every single person on the rug in order to be convinced,” and pointed to a boy who seemed to be wearing a shirt with a guitar on it.

Vinnie: “This is not a guitar on my shirt, it is a flag and this shirt is from the auto show.”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “Auto show……. What is that?”

Sylas: “Auto is a car”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “I still do not completely understand?"

Ari: “A car is something you go in and drive and go places.”

Teacher: “Aw…. that sounds like my horse and carriage.”

Elad: “But it is much faster.”

Chloe: “We can get you a big one, too.”

Stuart: “How about a golden one?”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “This is sounding much better all the time. I still would like to hear from other people.”

Tanvi: ”We can also cook some yummy foods for you. I can make you Indian food.”

Annette: “How about Chinese food?”

Maddie: “Tacos are good, too!”

Pharaoh (Teacher): “I love all these ideas and I think if you give me: money, finish building my city, a golden car and some good food, I will let you go!"

The children cheered and expressed how proud they were of their ability to convince the king only with four things to send the slaves to freedom.

Teacher's reflection:

This story opened the door for us as educators to really stretch the children’s minds, ability to think critically, and negotiate in order to get something they wanted. These life skills are critical to build a strong and solid foundation for our students to become people who think outside the box, citizens of the world who care and keep in mind that other people just like them have the right to have opinions and defend themselves and their ideas. Our hope is that students will grow up and possess skills such as empathy and openness to other cultures and people who think, look and sound differently than them.

The Global Citizen Check-In

Mr. Millner considers himself as way more than the 5th/6th Language Arts teacher (He's also our basketball coach and 7th/8th grade gym teacher but that's beside the point of this blog post.).

Teaching life skills

"We also get to teach students life skills, such as being able to function properly, or being able to talk to one another," he says. "Teachers used to be the gatekeepers of knowledge, but these days children can find knowledge in their pocket, and so our task becomes to teach them what to do with that knowledge."

"Learning to annotate and being able to defend arguments with facts are my main academic goals for them, but even there I believe in practicing what I preach. Our class has no text book. Rather, I bring my own annotated version of the novel we're currently reading and that tells me that chapter 5 is a good one to talk about similes. And of course I show the kids my annotated pages."

But in order to reach any of these goals, students need good executive functioning skills, such as bringing pencil and book to class so they can actually annotate. He's been working on quantifying some of what he teaches, and so he recently had his students complete a survey to evaluate themselves as global citizens.

Why have them evaluate themselves? 

"From morning till night," says Mr. Millner, "someone is telling a kid what to do, and so they tune out. Therefore I’m not telling them what to do. I'm not filling out their survey. If they fill it out themselves, they are more invested in the results and especially in the goals they set for themselves. In addition, self reflection is a skill in and of itself. I want the kid to realize for himself that he would be more prepared in class if he brought his pencil, and he is more likely to actually do it if he set that goal himself."

The kids evaluated themselves on these questions:

Afterwards Mr. Millner met with students one on one to get a sense of why they rated themselves the way they did, but also to talk about two goals they wanted to set for themselves to improve in these areas and to discuss strategies to achieve those goals. They will have a check-in meeting at the end of the school year.

"These meetings gave me a deeper appreciation of them as well," Mr. Millner found. "There was one student, for example, who I thought deserved fives, but he told me, 'nobody is perfect,' and gave himself fours. Obviously this child holds himself to a high standard!" While Mr. Millner was sometimes surprised by their goals, none of the students had problems picking goals.

When discussing these executive functioning skills, Mr. Millner shares his adult perspective with his students. "The other day I misplaced my building key card," he said. "It stressed me out the whole day until I found it sitting on my desk where I must have left it the day before rather than putting it in the pocket where I usually keep it. I hope that hearing about these everyday adult challenges helps the kids internalize how important these daily skills are and how much they affect our success in life, but also that it is an ongoing struggle, and that, as one of my students said, nobody is perfect, not even adults."

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Getting Ready for Passover

Our 3rd graders have been getting ready for Passover by designing their very own Seder plates.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrating Dr. Seuss

In honor of Dr. Seuss's Birthday on March 2, which also coincides with the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, known to be a month of happiness and merry-making, we had all kinds of Dr. Seuss activities going on last week.

Inspired by all the Dr. Seuss books they read, the three-year-olds in the Purple Room wrote their own books that teacher Barb Simon then read with them.

In the Blue Room, grandparents came for a visit and read to the kids.

7th/8th graders celebrated by reading favorite Dr. Seuss books with their 1st/2nd grade buddies.

Teachers/organizers Mrs. Crook and Ms. Lekousis dressed the part, too!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When I Am 100 Years Old

To celebrate the number 100 and their upcoming 100th Day of School Celebration, our Kindergartners have been looking at the number 100 in many different ways. One highlight of their study was asking, "What will I look like when I'm 100 years old? What will I be doing?"

They discussed in groups what someone might look like when they're 100 years old, what they might be doing, and how they would be feeling. They found out that some of the children actually knew someone who was 100 years old.

Then the children created self portraits of what they think they will look like when they're 100 years old.

Most important, of course, would be to be alive at 100!

Hm, really?

Wrinkles, for sure!

  Teeth or the lack thereof were a major characteristic... was walking with a stick.

White hair like that would be great at 100!

Now here's a guy who's going to be unusual at 100: collecting fancy shoes!