Monthly Archives: June 2014

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5 06, 2014

Ancona’s Flex Days

By |2018-12-17T11:37:25-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

by Director of Teaching and Learning, Balazs Dibuz

 

If you have heard of Flex Days — either in our summer mailing or from your child — you may be wondering, “What are Flex Days for?” Well, everything. Everything we value at Ancona, that is. Flex Days make possible many things that are difficult in a regular academic schedule, like…

  • extending an ongoing project,
  • engaging in a design process to create something fun or to solve a real-world challenge,
  • exploring interdisciplinary themes,
  • organizing exhibitions of learning — like Science Fair or Dia del Espanol
  • or getting off campus to visit experts and institutions in the field.

Essentially, Flex Days are just that, FLEXIBLE!

 

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Here’s how Ancona students spent their first Flex Day last Friday:

 

3rd/4th Grades

The 3rd and 4th graders began their “cardboard challenge,” inspired by Caine’s Arcade (www.cainesarcade.com). After brainstorming, sketching or making prototypes of all kinds of arcade-type games–or, if they preferred, buildings or vehicles, or whatever struck their fancy —  they set to work constructing their designs with boxes, tubes, and packing materials and whatever other materials they could find. By noon, they had taken over the upstairs hallway gluing, taping and cajoling the pieces into place, and then painting and decorating their creations. And this was only stage one of the design challenge! Next Friday, our next Flex Day, these same designers will evaluate their products–with input from their peers, of course–and consider ways to improve the design and the user experience.

 

Design Learning

The cardboard challenge is a precursor to numerous design challenges that will take place this year – opportunities for Ancona students to engage in a design process that integrates and further develops problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, and collaboration skills. It’s amazing what a kid can make from the things lying around the basement or garage. We recommend you do try this at home.

5th/6th Grades

The 5th and 6th graders took advantage of Flex Day to accomplish a number of important goals. In the morning, advisories reflected on the “Guiding Principles of a Peaceful School Community” and worked on behavior norms for their community, and then indulged in some cooking or other fun group activity. In the afternoon, 5th graders chose from four kinds of independent work in two back-to-back sessions, including Scratch programming, getting to know Google Drive, Reading, and Sketchbook drawing, while the 6th graders (and two 5th graders who really wanted to sing) had their first full chorus rehearsal of the year.

 

7th/8th Grades

Flex Day was a perfect opportunity for the 7th and 8th graders to embark on their City Quest. Using public transportation, each advisory traveled to a different ethnic neighborhood in Chicago, visited places of historical significance, learned about local organizations that serve that particular community and sampled the local cuisine.  This year, students journeyed to Andersonville, Bucktown, and Lincoln Park. To prepare, students researched the history of the neighborhood and designed their route to and from their destination, learning to navigate the city on their own. Such experiences help to solidify our students’ capacity to organize and implement solutions to real-life problems and give them confidence for moving about their city. Flex Days facilitate meaningful learning opportunities that transcend the classroom.

 

Preprimary – 2nd Grades

Not everyone did something out of the ordinary on this first Flex Day. Our youngest students need time to establish routines and grow into their learning environments –especially if they are new to the classroom. And yet, teachers at these levels also included a few special features that introduced new activities and ideas to their students. In Room 110, for example, students began to develop the concept of a science notebook, engaged in some scientific drawing and later had a visit from Christiane to make Palomas de Paz. The Flex Day functioned primarily as another “Foundation Day” for our early childhood program, giving children the confidence to grow and take risks throughout the year. This will be useful next week, when the Preprimary and 1st and 2nd grade classes plan to do some fall gardening outside. Let’s hope for good weather.

 

5 06, 2014

Experiential Learning

By |2018-12-17T11:37:26-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

by Head of School, Bonnie L. Wishne

Amongst Ancona’s most cherished and memorable traditions, camping trips provide critical opportunities for personal and intellectual growth that exceed and enhance what children can achieve in the classroom. Beginning in 3rd grade, off-campus experiences bring new developmental challenges, rich learning opportunities and outdoor fun for the whole child. Why do we camp? Let me count the reasons.

Experiential Learning
Direct experience is the most powerful teacher. Each trip provides a multitude of real-life field experiences in authentic settings. Where better to learn about a marsh than mucking about in one? That’s what our 3rd/4th graders do at Camp Edwards.

Have you fed a goat, collected eggs or held a chicken? Our 5th/6th graders do at cc4Nature’s Classroom How better to understand the realities of our food supply?

Does collecting and testing lake water give insight into the practical applications of chemistry? Our 7th/8th graders find out on a sailboat in Lake George.

Can watching a woman make tamales in her home explain the economics of microfinancing in a way that no textbook can? Our 8th graders certainly got it in Oaxaca last spring.

Lesson such as these — a mere sampling of the curricular connections woven into each Ancona trip — awaken curiosity, spur new interests and stoke the children’s natural desires for action.

Independence
Away from home and in an entirely new setting, children experience both the exhilaration and the responsibilities of independence. Montessori children are learning to care for themselves from day one, but the leap to caring for oneself for three days and two nights is a big accomplishment. Doing it for a week, is bigger still. Keeping track of possessions, getting to meals on time, pitching in to clean the room or doing one’s share to set up for a meal – each task calls upon the child to shoulder new responsibility and contribute to the welfare of the group. Each success teaches the child that s/he is a valued and contributing member of the community, and s/he returns to the classroom feeling newly accomplished and a bit more mature.

Each camp experience is a journey of self-discovery. When our 8th graders learn they can climb a mountain or handle themselves with a family in a whole new culture, they know they can take on high school and anything else that is coming their way.

21st Century Competencies2
21st Century education is not about accumulating facts; it is about acquiring the competencies that lead to success in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Perhaps it is counterintuitive, but away from the distractions of urban life and the digital world, camp is an ideal place for children to develop and practice problem-solving, cooperation and critical thinking in novel situations and with new adults to understand, get along with and learn from. Without the creature comforts and routines of home, they are called upon to quickly adapt to roommates, counselors, schedules, foods and novel activities. They figure out the rules and mores of a new culture – whether it’s YMCA camp or Oaxaca. They work together on tasks like building a shelter in the woods, starting a fire or finding their way on a night hike. Confidence, flexibility and resilience grow as challenges are met and setbacks overcome.

Confident Risk-Taking
Whether it’s a first time sleeping away from home, flying in an airplane, paddling a canoe, hiking a mountain, or conquering a high ropes course (all activities that happen on Ancona trips), camp offers every student opportunities for risk-taking with supportive, caring adults in a safe environment. Every camper can return home with a satisfied sense of confidence and accomplishment that serves her well the next time s/he is in a new situation or faced with a difficult task.

5 06, 2014

Experiential Learning

By |2018-12-17T11:37:26-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

by Head of School, Bonnie L. Wishne

 

Amongst Ancona’s most cherished and memorable traditions, camping trips provide critical opportunities for personal and intellectual growth that exceed and enhance what children can achieve in the classroom. Beginning in 3rd grade, off-campus experiences bring new developmental challenges, rich learning opportunities and outdoor fun for the whole child. Why do we camp? Let me count the reasons.

 

Experiential Learning

Direct experience is the most powerful teacher. Each trip provides a multitude of real-life field experiences in authentic settings. Where better to learn about a marsh than mucking about in one? That’s what our 3rd/4th graders do at Camp Edwards.

cc4Have you fed a goat, collected eggs or held a chicken? Our 5th/6th graders do at Nature’s Classroom How better to understand the realities of our food supply?

Does collecting and testing lake water give insight into the practical applications of chemistry? Our 7th/8th graders find out on a sailboat in Lake George.

Can watching a woman make tamales in her home explain the economics of microfinancing in a way that no textbook can? Our 8th graders certainly got it in Oaxaca last spring.

Lesson such as these — a mere sampling of the curricular connections woven into each Ancona trip — awaken curiosity, spur new interests and stoke the children’s natural desires for action.

Independence

Away from home and in an entirely new setting, children experience both the exhilaration and the responsibilities of independence.   Montessori children are learning to care for themselves from day one, but the leap to caring for oneself for three days and two nights is a big accomplishment. Doing it for a week, is bigger still. Keeping track of possessions, getting to meals on time, pitching in to clean the room or doing one’s share to set up for a meal – each task calls upon the child to shoulder new responsibility and contribute to the welfare of the group. Each success teaches the child that s/he is a valued and contributing member of the community, and s/he returns to the classroom feeling newly accomplished and a bit more mature.

Each camp experience is a journey of self-discovery. When our 8th graders learn they can climb a mountain or handle themselves with a family in a whole new culture, they know they can take on high school and anything else that is coming their way.

21st Century Competencies2

21st Century education is not about accumulating facts; it is about acquiring the competencies that lead to success in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Perhaps it is counterintuitive, but away from the distractions of urban life and the digital world, camp is an ideal place for children to develop and practice problem-solving, cooperation and critical thinking in novel situations and with new adults to understand, get along with and learn from.   Without the creature comforts and routines of home, they are called upon to quickly adapt to roommates, counselors, schedules, foods and novel activities. They figure out the rules and mores of a new culture – whether it’s YMCA camp or Oaxaca. They work together on tasks like building a shelter in the woods, starting a fire or finding their way on a night hike. Confidence, flexibility and resilience grow as challenges are met and setbacks overcome.

 

Confident Risk-Taking

Whether it’s a first time sleeping away from home, flying in an airplane, paddling a canoe, hiking a mountain, or conquering a high ropes course (all activities that happen on Ancona trips), camp offers every student opportunities for risk-taking with supportive, caring adults in a safe environment. Every camper can return home with a satisfied sense of confidence and accomplishment that serves her well the next time s/he is in a new situation or faced with a difficult task.

 

5 06, 2014

Young Scientists at Work at Ancona

By |2018-12-17T11:37:27-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

by Director of Teaching and Learning, Balazs Dibuz

 

There is knowing and then there is knowing. Science (Latin for knowledge) is concerned with the deeper kind of knowing that comes from careful observation, critical questioning, iterative testing, and thoughtful reflection and communication. At Ancona, students have opportunities to engage in all of these elements of effective scientific practice at every level, and they do so in real-world contexts both inside and outside the classroom. Students at every level get to explore topics in the areas of  physical science, life science, and earth science every year, along with an engineering and design challenge that incorporates concepts from one or more of these. Often abbreviated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), this integration of subjects more closely resembles the kind of work real scientists engage in as they face real-world challenges and propose creative, sustainable solutions. Here is what young scientists at Ancona are up to right now.

 

In the Preprimary, our students begin learning right away that all of us employ the methods of scientists as we navigate our daily lives and explore the world around us. We are curious, think and ask questions. Sometimes we conduct experiments to figure out puzzles we encounter. We often share our knowledge to help one another and we use our senses to learn. Students practice describing their observations as they collect information and record it on paper as accurately as possible. One of our main goals at this level is for students to learn to recognize when they are behaving like scientists.

 

Kindergarten students will soon beglarge_photo180147_1883453in a project learning about balls. Each class will have to create a ball collection. This project will be an open-ended study and the outcomes will be determined by the children. Individually or in small groups students will decide what they want to learn about the collection. They will have the opportunity to play with the balls and converse about the classroom collection to answer questions like, “do the bigger ones roll faster or bounce higher?” and “what makes them bounce? is it something inside?”

 

Scientists must also be able to represent their knowledge in a variety of ways. First and second grade students, who have been observing caterpillars grow in their classroom, are making observations and drawing pictures of caterpillars at different stages in their development. They will soon be taking a field trip to the prairie nature center to observe seeds, berries, plants, flowers, and animals, where our art teacher, Angela, will be helping them represent their observations through scientific illustrations.

 

In their first unit of the school year, third and fourth grade students make trips to the prairies both on the lakefront and at Camp Edwards in order to observe the life of plants, animals, and insects in the prairie. Students take careful notes on their observations using their science journals. They also take digital photos of life in the prairie and do web research on their questions. At camp, students walk through the prairie with a field guide in order to identify a variety of prairie plants. They learn that the prairie is the “restaurant” and the forest is the “hotel” for many animals and birds. Back at school, they use a virtual prairie program online called “Build A Prairie” to further their understanding of prairie life, prairie conservation and prairie fires.

zoom_photo180433_1883421

Our fifth and sixth grades students are learning about microorganisms like yeast and bacteria thorugh their study of food. They began by discussing how these organisms’ needs for food, water, and air are similar to our own. After experimenting to create good conditions for yeast to develop in their sourdough starters, they shift their focus to stopping bacteria from eating our food with heat, cold, dryness, and toxic conditions like high salt or acidity.

 

In the context of the Civil War, they also learn about unicellular organisms, such as bacteria; cell structure and theory, levels of organization of living organisms; how diseases affect body systems; and how to track a disease. Using models and simulations, students observe the spread of disease and analyze data to develop their scientific inquiry skills. Students use this information to develop a set of recommendations for staying healthy and helping others stay healthy.

 

One of Ancona’s current initiatives is to introduce more engineering and design elements into the science curriculum. An example of this is the project-based plate tectonics design challenge the seventh and eighth grade students are engaged in. In this engineering design unit, students work individually and collaboratively to design buildings that can withstand various natural disasters. The unit begins with an introduction of basic engineering terms and practices and utilizes many Internet-based resources and collaborative tools throughout. Student work will ultimately be displayed on a Google web site with their written research and images of their design from multiple viewpoints.

 

Students work in research teams to investigate the causes and effects of various natural disasters in their assigned cities: Santiago, Chile; Wellington, New Zealand; Tokyo, Japan; Istanbul, Turkey; or Islamabad, Pakistan. Because they are working in teams, this work is easily adapted for students’ varied learning needs and prior knowledge. Through this research, all students develop a basic knowledge of plate tectonics, as well as the more specific threats of their region — earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, etc. The research team collaborates on a 2-3 paragraph summary of the environmental constraints of the region. At this point students are taught strategies for using Google Tools for collaborative writing.

 

Once they’ve determined the challenges of their city, students begin to work on finding solutions, both in design elements and materials used. When they have collaborated on a design idea, each student goes to work drawing a scale model of the building from a different viewpoint. This work is preceded by the mathematical connection to proportional representation. Here, again, the work is easily scaffolded, allowing for more or less challenging viewpoints to accommodate the varied levels of the students. Some students are also pushed to create 3D models for their building, using Google Sketchup or similar modeling software.

 

These examples of Ancona scientists at work illustrate how our program develops the skills, practices and competencies that empower students to engage with their world in ways that will serve them throughout their lives and careers. This is just one way our school grows independent life-long learners.

 

5 06, 2014

Math and More

By |2018-12-17T11:37:28-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

by Bonnie L. Wishne and Sylvia Glauster

 

Being a progressive and constructivist school has many implications, for example:

-Teachers create their own curricula.

-We integrate the traditional subjects, because we want children to understand that knowledge is connected.

-We want students to make their own connections, too, because innovation arises in seeing novel connections.

-We create practical applications, because we believe children should be active learners who connect their learning to their own lives.

-We want the children to learn the processes and ways of thinking particular to a discipline at least as much as we want them to learn specific content.

-We take the learners into account, so that the interests and abilities of particular children influence the teacher’s planning and attention.

math1

For all of these reasons, talking about Ancona’s curriculum can be complex. As an example, Sylvia Glauster and Liz Iverson’s 6th graders are wrapping up Money Math, an original unit that develops the students’ facility with decimals
while introducing spreadsheets, algebraic concepts and many practical financial principles.

 

Studying Decimals

In this two-month long simulation, each sixth grade student takes the role of a newly employed college graduate who must stretch his/her salary to2 cover rent, transportation, food, fun, and emergencies.  Important mathematical concepts and skills are woven throughout the unit.  All students strengthen their computational skills with decimals — naming place value and rounding, sorting decimals by size, adding and subtracting decimals, multiplying and dividing decimals by whole numbers and then by decimals, finding and using percents and understanding interest.

But this investigation is much richer than just arithmetic.  So often, math is taught as a series of disconnected rote procedures that can seem like magic to many children.  Throughout Ancona’s math program, learning is embedded in authentic contexts that give deep meaning to student math work.

 

Clarifying Values

In Money Math, each student’s experience is shaped, in part, by his/her choices, because students begin by discussing their life priorities (financial security, community, helping others, having nice things, enjoying free time, etc.) and proceed with trying to make decisions that support those choices.  Sylvia explains,

 

Although the general outline of the project is set, students may choose to

apply for a second job, adopt a pet, sign a phone contract, buy a bike or car,

make donations to causes they support, and/or save for an exciting.

 

5 06, 2014

Learning and the Community

By |2018-12-17T11:37:29-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

 

by Director of Teaching and Learning, Balazs Dibuz

 

Ancona is deeply committed to the relationship between education and community. An important progressive education principle is that learning happens in the context of a community. This principle is bi-directional: children develop in a community of learners, and the community is, itself, a context for learning. At Ancona, classrooms are consciously constructed as learning communities, and students learn through their involvement in broader communities. These two dimensions of the education-community relationship are illustrated in many activities that are taking place at Ancona right now.

learning and community1

Multi-age classroom communities are a core concept in both Montessori and progressive education, because they replicate the world more naturally than a single age cohort and because they allow for students to develop socially and academically through a variety of experiences as leader/follower or mentor/mentee. Our primary teachers used last week’s Flex Day to extend the multi-age concept, creating a community of learners in the entire 1st through 4th grades. In a series of workshops, students experimented with the physics of bubbles, worked on coordinating the rhythms of double dutch and collaborated on various other projects and games before everyone settled into their afternoon writers celebrations. It was a great way for 3rd/4th graders to reconnect with their 1st/2nd teachers and for 1st/2nd graders to get a taste of their future. For everyone, it was an opportunity to participate in a larger, more varied community than their daily classrooms allow.

Through service learning projects — experiences that provide authentic service to the community — Ancona students learn that the same principles that guide their work together in the classroom can guide them into connections with the outside world. The 1st/2nd grade coat drive goes well beyond the bake sale experience that many schools afford their students. Beginning with some personal reflection on the need for warm clothing in winter, students then explored the way members of a community can help each other by reading a book, The Can Man, and by discussing how resources are not available equally to everyone. By participating in every step of the coat drive process, from decorating collection boxes, to communicating the need throughout the school to delivering the coats to direct service organizations on the South Side of Chicago, students learn to turn their own care and concern into genuine action to benefit others in our greater community.

 

Similarly, our 5th/6th graders make tri-annual excursions to assist in the Head Start program at El Valor, a bilingual community-based organization in South Chicago. Working at El Valor (which is Spanish for courage) gives our students the opportunity to make meaningful connections with a Spanish speaking community within Chicago, to have real-life experiences that transcend the classroom, and to think about language acquisition — their own and especially that of the U.S. Latino(a) population. Working with young children gives our 5th and 6th graders experiences of their own efficacy as well as insights into the value of education for any children. As one Ancona student wrote in her reflection on the experience, “The school seems to help the kids learn tons of things. The kids seemed really to enjoy the classes and books and stuff they learned. The kids were also great and nice and respectful.” At the same time, the experience reveals something to our students about the role they play as older mentors or models: “Some of the kids there remembered me from last year. It was fun because we got to help the kids and got to feel like someone really looked up to you how you look up to some people.”

Whether the community is the classroom or the South Side, Ancona students benefit by engaging with others in their learning experiences in ways that stretch them socially as well as cognitively. The community connections become more complex and far-reaching as Ancona students grow older, but the space of learning, from the playground in Preprimary to the neighborhoods of Oaxaca in their culminating experience in 8th grade, is always, and purposely, a space of community.

 

5 06, 2014

Butterflies: Anatomy of an Integrated Study

By |2018-12-17T11:37:30-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

 

For the first time in memory, all of the monarch caterpillars in the 1st/2nd grades died this fall before they could complete their metamorphoses into butterflies.  A sad harbinger of impending extinction?  Maybe.  But many experiments fail before they succeed, and this disappointment did not stop our intrepid young scientists from learning all about Lepidoptera.

Integrated learning experiences are a hallmark of an Ancona education. For the butterfly unit, our art teacher and Librarian joined together with the classroom teachers in an multidisciplinary effort designed to show children that knowledge is interconnected, and the work they do in one class is relevant to the work in other classes.

 

Science Skills

The arrival of monarch eggs in John’s and Jenny’s classrooms provided an exciting context for learning important science skills. To get ready for their guests, the children set up natural habitats in classroom terrariums. The children cared for the eggs, observing the caterpillars as they hatched, ate and grew. They took notes and measurements, made illustrations and learned to record relevant data in a science journal. They wondered why young caterpillars eat from the middle of leaves, but older ones chomp at the edges. And they noticed that the larger caterpillars were eating huge quantities of leaves, needing new ones every day. They wondered, too, why the caterpillars changed colors as they grew. Because insect bodies and life cycles are so unlike the vertebrates with which they are familiar, the children found them completely captivating. They are developing an appreciation for life in its varied forms and a sense of wonder about the natural world.

 

Science Concepts

From hands-on materials, stories and films, the children were introduced to a number of fundamental concepts of life science: diversity, habitat, life cycles, predation, camouflage, migration and environmental change.  They will be revisiting these concepts in increasingly complex ways throughout their years at Ancona.

Field Experience

The disappointing loss of the caterpillars was mitigated by a trip to the Peggy Notebaert Museum where the children could get up close and personal with hundreds of butterflies and live pupae.  They brought their journals to record notes and illustrations, and they asked questions of the docents.

Research

After meeting many so different butterflies and talking with experts at the museum, the children were ready to extend their learning with some individual research.  But how do beginning readers do that?

 

In the Ancona library, each student chose a butterfly from Ms. Marsha’s picture collection.  Showing them how to use a reference book, she enlarged a guide to butterfly identification, making it easy for these early readers to find their butterflies in the reference.  They could also identify the characteristics of their butterflies with visual cues.  Using map skills developed in the preprimary and 1st/2nd,  they determined the continent where the insect is found and used a scale to figure out its wing span.  They gathered information from fiction and non-fiction books Ms. Marsha has assembled for this study.  Soon, each child will put together a presentation to share with the class.

 

Pattern and Design

But was there another perspective on butterflies? Art classes offered the opportunity for transferring the work in Library to a new medium while further sharpening the children’s observation skills, focus and attention to detail.  The children had discussed anatomy in Library; in Art, they looked carefully at butterfly specimens under the microscope and with magnifying glasses and practiced drawing wings. They drew and cut out pairs of wings to understand the concept of symmetry.At first, several children told Angela they would never be able to draw a realistic butterfly, but she showed them a film about a boy who produces a drawing of an accurate swallowtail after several drafts and feedback from his peers.  Suddenly, they, too, had the confidence to work hard at representing exactly what they saw with drawing, cutting and rendering in chalk.  Angela taught an important lesson about using feedback and working hard through successive iterations to achieve an excellent result, one that applies across the curriculum and in life.

Finales

The butterfly unit isn’t yet over.  The children are going to use iPads to research wing patterns, and they’re going to learn more about the migration to Mexico and the danger posed by insecticides and loss of habitat.  In art, they’ll be partnering up, using their wing pattern research to create life-sized wings as a culminating project.  They’ll draw their wings on paper, transfer them to fabric and then paint their patterns. And as they literally try out their wings, we marvel at the collaboration that brought them to that place.

5 06, 2014

Traversing the Silk Road

By |2018-12-17T11:37:31-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

 

Ancona is a dynamic learning community for children, because of the spirit of experimentation and innovation that permeates our faculty.  Support for vibrant professional development is critical to the constant care and feeding of that spirit.  So when 7th/8th grades humanities teacher Bill Singerman asked to attend a professional development workshop on The Arts, Passion-Based Learning and The Silk Road, we answered with the requisite financial support and a resounding YES.

 

Silk has been a highly valued commodity for many centuries for both its elegance and its functionality, but silk fabric is the result of a complex process involving a network of skills and understandings – none of which were obvious or easily accessible to those who first discovered its virtues. High quality curriculum creation is a similarly complex process involving a network of talents and resources.  Bill’s week at Harvard ignited his own passion for the music, cultures and history of the Middle East and Central Asia.  As the conference explored how Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble weaves together diverse musical traditions in a rich fabric of intracultural dialogue, Bill’s inspired new unit on the Silk Road was born.

 

Bill knew that despite the historical, cultural, and contemporary significance of peoples of Eurasia, basic understanding of these areas and its peoples are all too often nonexistent or worse, inaccurate in the United States today.  A study of the ancient Silk Road could be a vehicle for Ancona’s middle schoolers to begin to cultivate an appreciation for the rich historical and cultural significance of these regions while making connections to current events.  He saw an opportunity to promote intracultural dialogue, an essential skill for global citizenship.

 

Multidisciplinary Studies

Although the unit would be rooted in social studies classes, Bill wanted it to be interdisciplinary as most Ancona units are.  Curricular materials offered students the opportunity to learn from anthropology, geography, language arts, fine arts, music, world languages, economics, science and technology. Students made use of 21st-century technologies to examine and work with primary and secondary sources, interactive maps and literature.

 

Geography

As geographers, students examined the concept of “Asia” and its numerous regions, identifying current political borders and studying topography and landforms. To illustrate how institutions develop to facilitate the exchange of goods and ideas, the class visited Target, a modern day Samarkand, and analyzed the way the Internet functions as a contemporary Silk Road.  Students researched various trade routes along the ancient Silk Road and gave Google presentations to their classmates.  One student used this opportunity to explore her family’s origins in Crete and its role in the Silk Road.

 

Religion

Because the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East are the birthplaces of a number of major religions and belief systems, the Silk Road provided an excellent context for investigating an essential question: What is religion and why adhere to religious teachings?  Using nonfiction print sources, artifacts and websites, students learned about the similarities and differences between Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.  Making the connection to their own lives, they visited houses of worship here in Chicago.  Students learned about the oral tradition and examined the poem The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe as an avenue for thinking critically about comparative religious beliefs.  And dovetailing with a realistic fiction unit in Language Arts, student book clubs (one of the structures of our Readers Workshops) read contemporary novels set in areas located along the ancient Silk Road.

Incorporating the Arts

The inspiration that truly brought the unit alive, however, was our very own intracultural dialogue amongst players of three traditional and one modern instrument.  Each musician – players of the ney, the rubab, the tabla and the human beatbox —  performed a workshop for the students.  And then, Bill then brought them together for an amazing intracultural dialogue, an improvisational jam session here in Ancona’s gym!   Bill wanted to demonstrate to his students what is possible when diverse but willing participants engage in conversation. He knew there would be many challenges.  Most of the musicians had never met before. But he saw in those challenges — different cultures, different musical traditions (some with different notation and scales even) and different personalities — the seeds of meaningful dialogue. They had just one hour at Ancona to meet, plan and rehearse. One of the most fascinating parts of the performance was what they shared about this process – the way the language of music helped them overcome their differences to weave together a silken tapestry of music.  The jam session was as beautiful as it was unpredictable when the idea was just a gleam in Bill’s eye.

 

Current Events

One of Bill’s goals in this unit was to open middle schooler eyes to more informed, critical and nuanced views of current events.  He challenged them to question their own assumptions and possible stereotypes, particularly about Muslims in this country and in Asia.   One particularly interesting and unplanned moment came when rubab player Habib Wardad mentioned that for much of its early history, Afghanistan had been a Buddhist nation.  Seeing blank stares on the faces of the students, he asked if they knew about the great Buddhist statues of Bamiyan that were destroyed by the Taliban.  Of course, they did not, as they were barely born in 2001 when the destruction took place.  And as so often happens at Ancona, this one spark led to a whole new exploration.  Seeing that the students’ interest was piqued, Bill then invited them to explore the significance of the Taliban in our recent and current social and political landscape.

 

Symposium

The work of understanding the world as a complex, layered text that involves many authors is ongoing — for our students and for all of us.  7th/8th graders, parents and friends will have another terrific opportunity to deepen their understandings of the Muslim experience in America today at Ancona’s 2nd Annual Diversity Symposium on Saturday, March 1.  Mark your calendars now for a fascinating, illuminating and artistic day!

5 06, 2014

Social Justice Data Fair

By |2018-12-17T11:37:35-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

 

Come to the Fair!

Our Social Justice Data Fair takes place Friday, January 17, following our Martin Luther King Peace and Justice Day assembly.  All are welcome!

 

Every January, we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King by recalling the stories, songs and speeches of his life and the struggle for civil rights in our country.  And throughout a student’s years at Ancona, our curriculum builds upon that legacy with attention to questions of equity, justice and human rights.  We are laying a foundation for a lifetime of critical thinking for engaged citizens in a democratic society.

 

To effectively judge the barrage of claims that flood our media, today’s critical thinkers and engaged citizens must be fluent in the language of data analysis.  5th/6th grade math teacher Sylvia Glauster developed Ancona’s Social Justice Data Fair to meld our early adolescents’ natural interests in fairness and justice with cross-curricular applications of critical thinking and data analysis tools.  It is an excellent example of highly engaging, project-based learning that demonstrates to students the everyday applicability of the mathematics they are learning.

 

At the same time, it encourages them to use rigorous standards of evidence to support their developing ideas and to evaluate those of others.  As with other Ancona units, the Data Fair itself is the culmination of a complex and integrated learning experience.

 

Statistics and Data Analysis

Prior to Thanksgiving, each 5th-8th grader identified a social justice issue that is important to him or her.   Topics ranged from obesity (is it a social justice issue?) to the prison system, the minimum wage and child slavery.  For several weeks, students researched their topics, collecting and analyzing the information they found.  They made sure their sources were reputable.   Students learned to interpret bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, scatter plots, ratios and other statistics to look for correlations, find disparities and track trends.  They discerned the most important information from their various graphs and tables and drew connections between the different pieces of evidence that they found.

 

Developing a Thesis

As each student’s evidence began to take shape, it was time to create an argument, and since this is a math unit, the argument had to be supported with mathematical evidence.  The teachers, Sylvia explained, agreed that thesis development is “an iterative process of information gathering and synthesis,” so the process in the classroom is one of revisiting and refining one’s ideas as more and more evidence is uncovered.  The practice of altering one’s point of view as new evidence comes to light is good practice for all of us!  And in the fields of science, policy and innovation fields, it is essential to designing solutions that work.

 

A Shared Conceptual Structure: Thesis+Supports

The middle school teachers work together to lay down a common vocabulary and a shared understanding of what makes a good thesis and what constitutes good evidence.  In the 5th/6th grade Writers Workshop this fall, students learned that a thesis is a sentence, that it is an opinion not a fact, and that it must be supported with evidence.  They used this structure to develop personal essays.  With the evidence garnered from their research, students used the same structure to develop their social justice arguments.  And they will revisit the structure later this year when they develop their science fair projects.

 

This fundamental structure is not as simple as it sounds.  Middle schoolers are in different stages of intellectual development along a continuum from concrete to abstract thinking; applying this one structure in differing contexts serves to push their thinking in the direction of greater complexity.  And it lays down a conceptual framework that will serve our students throughout their educations and beyond.

 

Making Your Case

Putting complex mathematical ideas into words is an important skill that is too often missing from math instruction focussed on memorization and testing.  When students can explain their mathematical ideas, we know they understand them — or, we can find out where their misunderstandings lie.  For this reason, making posters to explain one’s mathematical reasoning occurs in all of our  elementary classrooms.

 

To prepare for the fair, our middle schoolers created posters and powerpoints of graphs, charts and key statistics, explaining in words how the selected evidence supports the thesis.  At the fair, students gain confidence and poise presenting and defending their ideas to peers, parents and visitors, and coming full circle to the social justice goals, each project concludes with the student’s own assessment of what is important about the topic and ideas about how the situation could be made more just.

5 06, 2014

Student Support at Ancona

By |2014-07-16T18:02:17-06:00June 5th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

 

At Ancona, we understand that the different and complex needs of young learners can only be met with multiple opportunities and approaches to learning.  A central component in our educational approach, therefore, is the individualization we bring to each student’s instruction throughout the school day.  Our Student Support Team works closely with teachers to ensure that each child’s unique learning profile is both understood and supported in our classrooms.  When it comes to the all-important three R’s, the Student Support Team assists teachers in interpreting classroom assessments, and based on that information, helps to tailor the instruction for children who demonstrate a need for additional support during our reading, writing and math workshops.

 

Additionally, members of the Student Support Team assist teachers in finding materials and developing modifications appropriate for particular students during science and social studies and during the time spent in multi-level classes. Often, suggestions and ideas that have been brought up for one particular child spark fruitful conversations resulting in modifications extending to many others in a class.  In this way, the Student Support Team impacts the learning of every student in the school.

 

Here’s one very specific example of how our Student Support Team works together with our classroom teachers to benefit an entire class.  Three times a year, our reading specialist helps to administer and evaluate a phonetic assessment given to all first through fourth graders.  This assessment identifies which phonetic patterns children have attained and which patterns that they still need to develop.  Classroom teachers then use the assessment results to determine which words each child receives from week to week during their word study instructional time.  In this way, the Student Support Team helps the teachers to tailor their instruction to each individual child.  In word study, each child works on words and patterns that are “just right.”

 

We believe that early identification of potential roadblocks to learning can make all the difference in a child’s school success and her feelings about herself as a learner.  The Student Support Team helps to identify, and often, to provide support for, children who would benefit from early intervention.  We view the Kindergarten through second grades as especially important years for ensuring that early literacy and numeracy skills are developing appropriately.  The Student Support Team works closely with teachers in those years to interpret classroom assessments and to conduct their own additional assessments. When we see that particular children would benefit from additional support in identified areas, we form small instructional groups that may meet in the children’s classroom or in the Student Support Center.

 

The Student Support Team also provides annual screenings with outside experts to ensure that we do find potential problems early in a child’s educational career.  Next week, the Northwestern University Speech and Language Department is coming for their annual screening to evaluate whether our four- and five-year-olds’ communication skills are appropriate for their age level. In instances in which the screening identifies areas that should be further addressed, referrals are made to  parents and teachers.   Further, we work closely with an occupational therapy group to assess fine motor control and self-regulation of our Kindergartners.  As a result, a few Kindergarten children participate yearly in the Write Group to work on muscle strength and potential handwriting difficulties.

 

The Student Support Team contributes to our understanding of every child, offering supplementary instruction where appropriate, so that each can grow as a high-performing learner.