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7 04, 2016

Recuerdo de Oaxaca: 8th Grade Mexico Trip, 2016

By |2018-12-17T11:33:10-06:00April 7th, 2016|Curriculum Connection, Public News|0 Comments

From Spanish class to salsa, from socio-economics to soccer, Ancona 8th graders experienced Mexico in many authentic ways on their week-long Spanish-language immersion trip to Oaxaca. IMGP4542By staying with host families and by engaging with local business owners and students, our 8th graders had many opportunities to experience the culture of Oaxaca and to practice their Spanish language skills in real-world

The students began each morning with a two-hour Spanish language class at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. In the afternoons, they went on various excursions to museums such as the Museo Rufino Tamayo, where the director himself gave them a detailed and impassioned tour of the incredible collection of pre-Columbian artifacts artistically displayed, and the The Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, housed in the beautiful cloister adjoining the Templo de Santo Domingo and surrounded by a botanic garden, which includes a huge hoard of gold and jade Mixtec treasures unearthed at nearby Monte Albán.

monte Monte Albán itself was one of the destinations to which we traveled on longer excursions away from the city. This ancient ruin was the seat of Zapotec culture for nearly 1000 years and is one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica. After a guided tour, students tested their stamina by climbing the 42 steep steps of the south temple mound as many as twenty times (a new Ancona record!). 20160319_105241We also visited the second most important Zapotec ruin in Oaxaca at Mitla (originally Mictlán), which is unique for its elaborate and intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that cover the tombs in this site dedicated to the underworld, to which our 8th graders excitedly descended to see the small tombs for themselves.


The Cypress at Tule, el Gordo

We also visited the largest tree in the world–largest in circumference, that is. The 2,000-year-old cypress in Tule is 52 meters in girth. It supposedly takes 23 adults to reach all the way around this tree trunk–though we did not try it ourselves.

20160319_124928Another natural element students got to immerse themselves in (literally) is the hot springs at Hierve el Agua in the Sierra Madre del Oaxaca mountain range. These springs have created waterfall-like formations over the many centuries they have been depositing minerals where they bubble (“boil”) out of the mountainside.
IMG_8641One of the most engaging experiences of the trip to Mexico was the opportunity to visit and learn about a number of Oaxacan women who had started businesses with microloans from the organization Fundación En Via.dyes
Students learned about the businesses, such as cheese- and tortilla-making and even a beauty salon, that these women started up with the interest-free loans. In the village of Teotitlán del Valle, they got to observe and even try their hands at carding and spinning wool and preparing dyes for beautiful, hand-made textiles. The guides from the organization were very impressed with the sophisticated questions our 8th graders asked and the degree of interest they showed in the cultural and economic aspects of the program. “You can always tell an Ancona student . . .”

When we asked the students what their most meaningful experience was on this trip, many of them talked about the extraordinary exchanges they had with the school children they met. Twice they sat together to talk and learn about each other, the “intercambio,”
griffinand then they all played a game of soccer together–with mixed teams that they self-selected. IMGP4673Everyone was a winner that day! This, and the other opportunities to interact with the people of Oaxaca, at home with the families, with the school children, and with the local business owners–and just the people they met on the Zócalo (the town square), are what make this stay in Mexico so different from a tourist trip; it allows our kids to be truly open to another culture and other perspectives. This trip is a true culmination of all the work in speaking, reading, and writing Spanish, the creative problem-solving and critical thinking, and the commitment to social justice our 8th grade students have been engaged in at Ancona for over a decade. It is truly a transformational experience.

zocaloTo see more pictures and videos of our 8th grade students in Mexico, please visit My Classrooms.

14 01, 2016

Ancona Students Speak Up

By |2018-12-17T11:33:38-06:00January 14th, 2016|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

IMG_2416Ancona students have many opportunities to engage with issues of social justice. They explore recognize, discuss, and even propose and present solutions to topics ranging from discrimination (preprimary), water rights and civil rights (primary), and a broad range of self-selected topics in their own communities in the Social Justice Data Fair (middle school). But social justice is not taught as a separate subject at Ancona; it is integrated into every subject area and throughout our students’ school experience until it becomes part of who they are, part of how they think about and relate to the world around them.

IMG_2414As part of this year’s cultural unit on South America, Ancona middle school students are exploring the life and work of Brazilian Paolo Freire, as well as that of Brazilian director and social justice activist Augusto Boal, whose Theatre of the Oppressed worked to empower and inspire others to improve their living conditions. On a recent FLEX Day, our 7th and 8th graders participated in a workshop offered by Northlight Theater. Inspired by Boal’s work, Northlight Theater uses theater for social change to address contemporary social justice issues. The theater’s education program, Speak Up! “is a theatre for social change residency and asks students to address issues impacting their community. Speak Up! is a long-term active personal, artistic, and academic investigation that brings current events into the classroom and fosters social responsibility. Through the process of creating an original performance addressing topical issues, students use their voices to engage their peers in building positive change in their community.”

Guided by three professIMG_2417ional actors from the organization, Ancona students addressed the topic of “microaggressions.” Students first reviewed the tools of the actor: voice, mind, and imagination and built community through games designed by Augusto Boal, after which they moved on to an examination of the labels we give ourselves and that others give us–in the different communities we belong to–through a poetry writing exercise. In groups, they then came up with a shared list of types and traits of communities and shared physical statues about what they wanted to celebrate about community and problems that exist in our communities. These groups then received an article about microaggressions from The New York Times with which they created blackout poetry to highlight the words, phrases and points in the article that they felt expressed their own points of view. Finally, they created culminating performances to share with the whole level. They could use all the material generated throughout the day as inspiration for the text and images they incorporated into their performances.

20160108_113628The team from Northlight Theater was very impressed with our 7th and 8th graders. They found the Ancona students “to be very open, intelligent, vulnerable and mindful.” They felt the students really learned a great deal by “creating performances about bullying, acts of microaggression that they previously felt were normal behaviors but thought more deeply about the consequences of, and gave examples of how to be upstanders when they would hear or see a microaggression happening.” And this transformative experience was just an introduction to theater as a tool for social activism for our students, as one of the teaching artists from Northlight is sticking around to offer an elective for 7th and 8th graders for the next six weeks, and we will certainly have them back again to collaborate with Ancona teachers in offering more opportunities for our students to engage with issues of social justice through the performing arts.

19 02, 2015

‘If it ain’t got that swing . . . ” — all things Jazz at Ancona

By |2018-12-17T11:35:45-06:00February 19th, 2015|Curriculum Connection|1 Comment

A few years back, the Preprimary program at Ancona added a Jazz Parade to alternate with the annual Chinese New Year Parade. This year, in the context of their study of Black History, they decided to explore how Jazz is related to the Black experience. Through collaboration with our Librarian, Ms. Marsha, and our Art Teacher, Angela, they followed the progress of jazz from its origins in African rhythms to its fusion with French Creole, Mississippi Delta (Gospel and Blues), European and Afro-Cuban musical forms in New Orleans, and its spread across the United States to places like New York, Kansas City, and Chicago, and the West Coast, to finding an international audience and global acceptance as it was embraced around the world and continues to evolve in sub-genres, such as Be-Bop, Fusion, Latin-, Cool- and even Acid-Jazz.

Ms. Marsha set the Jazz theme in motion by reading the children a book titled The Sound That Jazz Makes, which served as a developmentally appropriate foundation for their study of jazz. Back in their own classrooms, students read books related to the theme, such as Rap-a-Tap-Tap by Leo and Diane Dillon, Nicholas Cricket by Joyce Maxner, and Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler and R. Gregory Christie. With Angela, the children explored art and artists who visually articulate these themes: Jacob Lawrence (Migration Series), Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Jones, Archibald Motley, Romare Bearden (Musical Instrument Collages), Henri Matisse (Jazz Series), Piet Mondrian (Boogie Woogie). Students created kente-inspired wall-hangings and made talking drums and tambourines out of everyday objects, like toilet paper rolls and boxes.

Students in the preprimary were deeply immersed in their exploration of Black History, especially the cuisine, history, geography, Creole language and ragtime music of New Orleans and the Bayou when, with the kind of collective improvisation that is jazz, things really took off. In the spirit of collaboration, with the goal of complementing the curriculum, Angela outlined several themes to explore at each level:

Confluence of Cultures: Jazz derives from several cultural traditions: West African rhythms, European chamber ensembles, Mississippi Blues, Gospel and Cuban Contradanza.

Diversity: Jazz halls were places where both the musicians and the audience reflected the idea of the American melting pot.

Historical Context: Jazz coincides with the urbanization of America and the emergence of the New Negro Renaissance. As a cultural movement, jazz maintains a significant influence on global culture, taking on new shapes in different regions where it is taken up and fused with other traditions and innovations.

Migration/Movement: Jazz moves with the waves of people traveling from the Southern part of the United States to Northern cities during the Great Migration.

Literature: Langston Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred figures prominently among jazz poetry. Louis Armstrong’s song, “What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue?” is highlighted in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti and Amiri Baraka created prose and poetry related to Jazz culture.

Math and Science: There is much scholarship around the rhythmic patterns, ratios and tempos related specifically to jazz music. Vibrations, frequencies/wavelengths, and how musical instruments work are also important areas of science exploration.

Musical Evolution: Although Jazz evolved into many sub-genres, collective improvisation, syncopation, and the swing beat continue to define Jazz.

Meanwhile, Ms. Marsha shared Internet and print resources with all grade levels to support these explorations. She also shared her father’s wonderful photographs of famous jazz musicians, which you can see displayed in the halls of Ancona. Chuck Stewart shot most of these photos after graduating from Ohio University, but his inspiration was sparked when Marian Anderson visited his school and he captured her image with the Kodak Brownie camera his mother gave him when he was only thirteen years old. Perhaps this collaborative study of jazz will inspire Ancona students in similar ways.

Working together with the 1st through 4th grade teachers, Angela guided students in constructing and decorating their own Kalimbas (thumb pianos), an instrument with deep and wide-spread roots in Africa. Students in 3rd and 4th grades will continue to explore a variety of African instruments and will learn about the physics of sound as well. Meanwhile, our Head of School-elect, Ari, visited the preprimary classrooms, bringing his guitar and harmonica to give a presentation on how music can make people feel different emotions. He talked with the children about major and minor chords as well as the 7th chord that is often heard in Jazz Music. The children enjoyed the presentation, as well as getting a chance to work with Ari.

Kindergarten students have designed and decorated umbrellas for the culminating event of this exciting unit of study, the jazz parade. Angela provided a variety of textiles, decorative paper, and ribbons that inspired these beautiful creations. She also helped  students understand the role that math plays in art. First students chose geometric designs to trace and cut, then they measured ribbons and fabric that would best fit their themes. The results are impressive and you can see them tomorrow, Feb. 20, as preprimary students wind their way through the halls of Ancona to the syncopated rhythms of jazz (parade begins at 10:30).

And be sure to join us for our African-American History Assembly next Friday, Feb 27, when you will get a chance to see, hear, and feel all that jazz at Ancona.

4 02, 2015

Assessment @ Ancona

By |2018-12-17T11:35:51-06:00February 4th, 2015|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

Educators are fond of citing the wise farmer’s maxim, “You don’t grow a pig by weighing it.” While this transfer of wisdom from one field to another may be pithy, and while the statement is, strictly speaking, true (weighing a pig does not increase it’s weight), a deeper examination can reveal a great deal about the role weighing does play in raising pigs on farms, and, by analogy, in assessing children at school. In fact, weighing, in all its modes and measures, is actually an essential component of the kind of education we are committed to at Ancona. We might even say: how we assess is at the heart of how we teach.

Rob Evans, Ed.D., a famous educator, admonishes teachers “never

[to] collect data on a child that you do not use to further your teaching of that child.” What he is promoting is “formative” assessment, the type that allows teachers to decide what to teach next based on where the student is (what she understand, knows, or can do). There are other types of assessment, of course, usually called summative and comparative. These are the kind that help teachers determine how far a student has come over a period of time or how she compares to others in her peer group. In farmer terms, this kind of weighing gives one bragging rights or determines which pig gets the blue ribbon. While this kind of weighing may grow the farmer’s pride or income, it certainly does not grow the pig.

At Ancona, we are almost exclusively concerned with assessment that helps us and our students make well-informed decisions about how to proceed in this great project called teaching and learning. One reason we call our curriculum the Landscape of Learning is to remind us that students of the same age can be at different places along their paths of learning and can (and should) actually traverse different routes at different speeds to arrive at the learning goals we identify as milestones along their journeys. Just as we would not give two families who are at different locations in the city the same directions on how to get to school, we don’t give two students the exact same lesson, assignment or guidance in school. Knowing where a child is in his understanding and competency (as well as how he learns best) is essential to  designing learning experiences in which he will thrive.

Our attention to children’s “place and progress” begins from the moment they walk through the door of the Preprimary classroom. Maria Montessori exhorts teachers to think of themselves as scientists, observing carefully and noting precisely not just what a child is able to do, but how she approaches the work and how she responds to various types of guidance. The purpose of this attention is not to tell the child that she “got it right,” because praise, much like a blue ribbon, has no real impact on learning. Research has shown repeatedly that grade-like assessments actually dampen the motivation to learn, and Montessori herself recognized early on that constant praise results in training the child to perform for the praise and not to apply himself to the learning. This is why many Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting; a feedback loop is established between the child and his work, resulting in  the satisfaction of independent learning.

Even as children grow beyond the Montessori materials, the work Ancona teachers prepare is designed to keep assessment as immediate and authentic as possible. It is, in fact, an important criteria of project-based learning that the goal or product of the project be realistic and measurable by authentic criteria: Did the sail move the boat more efficiently than it did the first time? Did we save money on the sandwich shoppe ingredients by buying bulk? Did your audience understand your intended message? How do you know? Therefore, teachers plan for students to have opportunities to try out their solutions and to share them with authentic audiences. In gallery walks, for example, students write observations and ask questions about other groups’ math work, and in math congresses they display their solutions and explain their thinking/strategies. The process of sharing drafts with and giving feedback to other writers before they revise their work is an essential element on our Writing Workshops.

While learning can be messy, assessment need not be. In fact, one of the functions of assessment is to help educators focus on what matters most when students engage in learning: the learning. To this end, teachers at Ancona make themselves present in the learning process, observing and recording the evidence of understanding or the development of skills as they happen. Because this is not always easy, there are some powerful tools the teachers at Ancona have adopted or invented to measure learning. As an example, teachers use the Running Record ate to evaluate growth in reading throughout a student’s years at Ancona. At all grade levels, teachers sit with students as they reada series of increasingly more difficult texts, recording the child’s oral reading and comprehension. This snapshot of a child’s current reading level empowers teachers to assign the child’s just right reading level.  Together with spelling inventories, running records help teachers assign the most effective word study activities for each child, and also serve as portfolios that document a child’s growth over time, revealing patterns and changes in the tempo of his or her learning.

We are very aware at Ancona that our students will some day (too soon) be assessed in order to be placed in new educational settings or to be ranked within those settings, and so we offer them the guidance and practice necessary to prepare for this kind of assessment. But if that were all we did, we would be like the farmer who puts his pig on the scale, reads the numbers, possibly records them in a book, and then puts the pig right back in the standard stall while he himself goes inside to dream of winning blue ribbons. It may make the farmer feel better, but it certainly won’t grow him any great pigs–or win him any blue ribbons, either, for that matter.

15 01, 2015

Ancona 5th and 6th Graders Tackle Climate Change

By |2018-12-17T11:35:54-06:00January 15th, 2015|Curriculum Connection|2 Comments

At Ancona we don’t tell students that climate change is a problem or what to do about it; we let them learn about climate change by analyzing real-world data, and we empower them to take whatever action they feel is right and effective. The 5th and 6th grade unit on Climate Change is highly interdisciplinary and is based very firmly in real-world contexts–two fundamental principles of project-based learning. 5th/6th Grade Math/Science teacher Sylvia Glassco’s description of the unit captures this and more:

“Beginning in 1970, students travel through time to investigate breaking climate data as it is released. Studying and simulating experiments with ice cores and sea ice, ozone thickness, and regional and seasonal shifts in animal behavior, students make scientific judgments about what is happening and what needs to be done. Taking various global perspectives, students come together to debate international treaties at two mock conferences addressing climate change.”

Throughout the unit, students develop a deeper understanding of some key science concepts and processes, including climate systems, energy transfers, data collection and graphing, science as an iterative process, as well as skills in the areas of non-fiction reading and writing, public speaking and debate. They also tackle essential questions like, “How do climate systems and human behavior interact?” “How do scientists refine their understanding over time?” “What are the responsibilities of scientist-citizens?”

By reading a selection of news articles from the past four decades and by re-enacting various experiments from those times, as well as learning about  scientist-citizens like Rachel Carson, all within a cultural context, which they explore through the music, images, and social/political trends of those decades, students reconstruct our nation’s fluctuating relationship with the causes and effects of climate change. They are encouraged to analyze the data and debate the implications, learning to identify and handle different kinds of information–distinguishing between demonstrable facts and expressed opinions. 


As the unit progressed and students’ knowledge about the human impact on climate grew, so did their frustration and their desire to do something about it. They began to explore ways to communicate the facts and to motivate people to take action. Thsi desire to do something about climate change led perfectly into the two culminating projects students were responsible to create. Each student prepared a paper for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, where they represented various nations (considering the economic, social, and political contexts of those nations). They also formed groups to create projects that allowed them to act on their beliefs about climate change. Students chose a variety of ways to take action, including a podcast, which will soon be broadcast on a local radio station, a movie, a series of posters (that you may have seen in the lobby of the school over the past two months), a climate rally–in front of the school on two different ocassions, a web site, an Instagram feed (titled “climate change 101”). One group of students is still planning a bake sale, the proceeds of which would allow them to “adopt” a tract of rainforest through the Nature Conservancy, and another group of students is looking for grant money that would help Ancona get solar panels for the roof of the school.

protest2            IMG_0025

Project-based learning requires that students truly grapple with real-world problems and construct their knowledge and understanding through first-hand engagement with primary source documents and experts. They are also afforded the opportunity to express their ideas and feelings and to propose, implement, and analyze solutions of their own. These elements of project-based learning are all present in the integrated Climate Change unit the 5th and 6th grade students engaged in this year.

4 12, 2014

More Arts @ Ancona: The Fine Arts Program

By |2018-12-17T11:36:07-06:00December 4th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|1 Comment


We are always looking for ways to incorporate and integrate art into the student experience at Ancona.  Our art teachers, Angela Ford in the primary grades and Janet Musich in the Middle School, couldn’t agree more that art is an essential part of educating the whole child. This is apparent in their overview of the art program:

“Our art program develops visual literacy in our students and empowers them to be both creators and appreciators of visual art in all of its fluid and ever-changing manifestations. We accomplish this in a balanced and sequential program that is pedagogically consistent throughout all eight grades. Self-assessment and critical thinking skills are emphasized, and our instruction proceeds in an interrogative format with the active participation of students in discussion. Students are encouraged to bring their own objects, ideas, experiences and inspirations to share in class with teachers and students alike and to recognize that everyone brings expertise and knowledge to the table.”

Like other subjects at Ancona, art education is child-centered. By basing both their appreciation and their developing skills on their personal experiences of the world, and by using high quality tools and the best practices in the discipline of art, Ancona students engage as authentic artists in exploring and expressing the world around them.  They express their own ideas and imaginings in a wide variety of media and to authentic audiences whenever possible.


Artistic Experimentation

When the mind and the hand are both applied to an exploration of the world, things can be unpredictable, but it is often by experiencing the unexpected that children construct an understanding of their world. Finding the right color, creating the right line, and capturing the right contour to recreate the subtleties of a leaf, feather, or a butterfly wing — the “feel” of those natural surfaces–all require iterative attempts and fine adjustments. The Color Experimentation unit in 1st and 2nd grades allows students to try out many variations of pattern, contour, and color to create their own renditions of specimens they gather in their environment. As Angela says, “Autumn provides a nice backdrop for exploring nature’s treasures and transformations through observation and documentation. We notice the brilliant and unique color patterns on autumn leaves, the diaphanous nature of butterfly wings, the smooth skin of apples, the ribbed surface of pumpkins, the softness of feathers, and the intricate design of an osage orange. We discover ways to capture the characteristics of these objects through continued colored pencil experimentation.”

This year, Angela added a new component to the color experimentation unit and was very pleased with the results. After creating rubbings of leaves (more than one so that they could choose to work with a favorite or with a variety) and then coloring them in with pencils as in years past, students also tried using paints to capture the subtle hues they observed in the original leaves. The result was very satisfying, both because the paints blended beautifully to reproduce the transitions between colors and also because the tendency for the paints (watercolors) to overflow boundaries seemed to capture the authentic nature of fall leaves with their overlapping of color and contour in their natural environment.  It was felt liberating to the students who did not feel compelled to “color inside the lines.”


Art as Seeing

What does a marching band look like from above? What does my house look like on Google Earth? These kinds of inquiries get students thinking about the world from a bird’s-eye view and other unusual, seldom-experienced perspectives. Looking at things from unfamiliar perspectives not only expands our view of the world, but also prompts more abstract inquiries into our assumptions about it. Exploring objects this way can increase students’ understanding of the way they perceive and represent objects. In the two-dimensional composition unit, students “consider the phenomenon of the horizon line, the place where the sky meets the Earth. They think about the horizon line in different environments, such as a beach, downtown with tall buildings, in a neighborhood and at a park or playground. They explore the mechanics of vision and prove that people and objects diminish in size and clarity with distance.” But the experience of perspective goes beyond simple observation, as “Each child takes a turn on the playground running away from the group while the other students observe the runner decreasing in size the farther away s/he runs.” Making such real-world connections helps students grasp abstract concepts more securely.


The Science of Art

One of the goals of Ancona’s art program is to equip students with the tools, techniques and strategies artists use to manipulate the materials and media of artistic production. In the 7th/8th grade Linear Perspective unit, students explorate one and two-point perspective, which they study both as a historical development in art and a method for rendering space and geometrical objects. perspectiveJanet describes this middle school art unit as a confluence of these approaches: “Linear perspective was a major development in artistic and mathematical expression in the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance in Europe. The representation of built environments and architectural drawing are heavily dependent on a firm grasp of this concept, and students are introduced to this mechanical drawing technique through the geometric solids. Lessons are built on the intuitive knowledge that things seem to get smaller when they are more distant. Drawings of multiple receding shapes are followed by patterned surfaces on polygons. Students also consider the use of linear perspective in compositions by Edward Hopper, Di Chirico, Da Vinci and others. Works of art are evaluated to yield information about whether lines of perspective are mechanical and incidental or deliberate and adding to the information or content of the work.”

Just as in the primary grades, it is the actual production of art juxtaposed with the historical and conceptual context that makes true understanding and effective skill-development possible. “As part of their exploration of linear perspective, students accomplish a drawing of a single building in a landscape in proper perspective. Many students go on to draw multiple buildings and points of view and add details such as streets, sidewalks and interior space. Weather and time permitting, the students go outside to observe and record visible perspective in the built environment.” Understanding single and two-point perspectives empowers students to enhance the realism of theirs drawings and to further their ability to interpret and appreciate other works of art. It also serves as a foundation for future artistic endeavors, such as the 3-D Construction Project, in which “students consider the relative stability of triangles and squares as a basis for construction. Beginning with a rectilinear shape for the base, students add layers constructed out of toothpicks and glue determining configurations that have the maximum stability as the structure progresses.” There are many potential applications of the geometric and mechanical understandings students construct in this project, such as in the design of earthquake-proof building in their 7th/8th grade science unit on seismology.


The Art of Science

During one of our fire drills this fall, some of our younger students happened upon a recently deceased yellow-bellied sapsucker. The bird was almost perfectly intact, with only the eyes eaten out by the first round of scavengers. The bright red nape and mottled black and white wings were brilliant in the autumn light, and Janet could not let this specimen go to waste, so she gathered it up gently and preserved the bird’s carcass in her collection in the freezer near the art room. This bird, like the other specimens she and Angela have collected over the years, children:hummingbirdwill serve our students (and teachers) to engage in close, careful observation of the world, helping them to understand through concepts like proportion, shape, coloring, and even weight (density) how the world and its creatures function. As Janet writes in one of her unit overviews, “The concept that form follows function is beautifully demonstrated in the anatomy of birds, providing an excellent introduction into the mechanics and aerodynamics of man-made flying machines.”

The relationship between form and function has been linked to a science unit on the invention of flight in years past to offer insights into how flight is accomplished, both by birds and by aeronautical engineers such as the Wright Brothers.bird drawing The study of science and social studies at Ancona involve the arts extensively, both in terms of technique, such as when students use scientific illustration to heighten their powers of observation, and in terms of appreciation and understanding, as when students examine the cultural artifacts of other peoples and periods of history to better grasp their values and their social and political institutions. This year,when 5th and 6th graders will be studying the Middle Ages, they will explore the roots of some of the cultural and economic forces that shaped European society by examining, well, a root vegetable with a very interesting history: the carrot. The introduction of the domesticated carrot from Afghanistan during the 15th Century is just one way–in this case, a very colorful one–to explore how an exchange of ideas and goods can transform societies. Stay tuned . . .



Arts Electives

7-8 mosaicAs one way to offer student choice at Ancona, 7th and 8th grade students are able to choose among three electives throughout the year. Each series of workshops, called Creative Expression Lab (CEL), runs for about 12 sessions, during which students can explore an area of the arts they find interesting. The workshops offerings usually include options mosaic2in the fine and performing arts, and occasionally in digital media; recent examples include mosaic tile design, Rhythm and Blues, Hip Hop Theater and A Capella Choir. Many of the electives allow students to produce or perform something for the school community. For example, the Mosaic Tile workshop completed a mosaic map of Spain last year and is busy creating a similar map of this year’s curricular focus in the Spanish program: Mexico, Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. These maps–four of them eventually–will adorn the hallway in the old building, contributing to the beauty of our school. Performances are also offered by workshop groups; some of these will be featured in our next Curriculum Connection on Performance and Process at Ancona.


30 10, 2014

Las Ofrendas de Ancona

By |2018-12-17T11:36:21-06:00October 30th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

First:  A Field Experience

The World Language and Cultural Studies program at Ancona integrates language study with explorations of the rich Spanish-speaking cultures of the world in a four-year cycle: 1) Spain; 2) Mexico, Central-America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean; 3) South America; and 4) Latinos in the USA. As part of this year’s cultural focus on México, Ancona School student at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, ChicagoAmérica Central y el Caribe Hispanohablante, students of all ages got to spend a day in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago immersing themselves in authentic experiences.  They visited sites ranging from a supermercado and a panadería (bakery) to the National Museum of Mexican Art, where they viewed and learned about a variety of art traditions including the annual display of “ofrendas” in preparation for Día de los Muertos.

Ofrendas are objects displayed on “altares” (altars) that are traditionally composed of four “levels” representing air, water, earth and sky. They are used to honor, celebrate, commemorate, or reflect the personality of a deceased relative. Contemporary altars and their ofrendas can be much more creative and flexible.  Some ofrendas honor or focus on social justice or environmental issues, such as cruelty to animals or the struggles of various groups of underserved or oppressed peoples. This year at Ancona, students in grades 1 through 8 are engaged in ofrendas projects of their own, culminating in a display and activities this Friday.

In their letter home about the Ofrendas project, Spanish teachers Christina Kuszewski-Rouches and Christiane Westhelle describe Día de los Muertos as

A fusion of Spanish cultural traditions and an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, this festival is a time for friends and families to gather together and remember deceased loved ones. Traditions associated with this holiday include building altars decorated with marigold flowers, candles, papel picado (colored tissue paper), photos and calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls). Families typically visit the graves of the departed, bearing gifts and praying for their souls.

In most regions of Mexico, November 1st is a day to honor children and infants, and is known as both Día de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”) and Día de los Angelitos (“Day of the Little Angels”). November 2nd typically honors adults who have died, and is known as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos (“Day of the Dead”). Although it occurs at roughly the same time as Halloween in the United States, the traditions are quite different; the Day of the Dead being a tradition that celebrates the lives of those who have died (rather than death itself).”

Ancona students at Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art viewing the ofrenda to Gabriel Garcia MarquezWhile at the Museum of Mexican Art, students viewed a number of altars but were especially enthralled by the one celebrating the life and work of Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, who passed away this year in April. The elaborate altar was constructed in the shape of a book–which immediately appealed to our bibliophile students, of course–and displayed ofrendas honoring and commemorating the famous author. Staff at the museum explained the significance of various items on the altar, the types of materials used, and how the artist honored this important figure through the display.


Second:  Making Our Own Ofrendas

Back at Ancona, our students were invited to choose from a list of possible topics or someone or something with personal significance as the subject of their own ofrendas. Each grade level approached making ofrendas in a developmentally appropriate way.  Kindergarten students discussed an altar dedicated to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in their Spanish classroom.  Each 1st/2nd grade class is displaying its ofrendas in one large group altar for each classroom in the main hallway.   3rd/4th graders are constructing their altars out of boxes, which they decorate and fill or cover with ofrendas.  5th and 6th graders created mini retablos—another form of remembrance through visual display—with Janet Musich in Art class; and 7th and 8th graders are working in groups to construct larger altars—using desks, tables, large boxes, and other materials. The boxes and larger altars will be displayed in Room 104.

Third:  Display, Present and Reflect

Parents, you are welcome to take a look at all the ofrendas tomorrow, Friday, Oct 31, from 11:30 to 1:30, and, while here, you are invited to honor anyone that has passed away by writing a few words about him/her (or about an issue that is of concern to you, i.e., homelessness, violence in our communities, etc.) on our “Community Ofrenda.”

Ofrenda plans by students at the progressive Ancona School in Chicago

Planning and design are essential parts in the process of constructing an altar.

The work of planning, researching/reflecting on, constructing, and decorating the altars has offered students a whole range of design challenges and technical problems to solve. “How do we attach this heavy piece to our box?” “What colors go well with the marigolds we made?” “How can I best express how sad these animals are when they are locked up in cages?” are just some of the questions students posed to themselves and each other as they created their altars. And students used everything from glue and paper to legos and potting soil, but especially their imaginations, to realize the ideas and feelings they were hoping to express.

Fourth:  Special Guest Artist

When the projects are finished, the learning will continue, as students display their work and tell parents and peers about the person or issue they are honoring and the process for creating their altars. We are very fortunate that  Señora Rita Arias Jirasek, the artist who made the ofrenda in honor of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, will speak about her own ofrenda as well as the diversity of honorings practiced in Mexico when she visits the school on Friday.

The Ofrendas Project is a wonderful example not only of how Mexican and other Spanish-speaking cultures are explored in-depth in our World Languages program, but how project-based learning allows students to develop a deeper understanding of cultural and social justice issues. By engaging their heads, hearts, and hands in the creation of a visual display based on research and thoughtful reflection on an issue or a person they find interesting or meaningful, students stretch themselves to both understand the topic and to express their own feelings about it while learning about a rich cultural tradition.

3rd and 4th graders constructing their altars.

Señora Christiane and 4th grade students discussing how to include an explicación on their ofrenda displays:

23 10, 2014

Beds, Boxes, Beads, and Buses: Tools for the Young Mathematician

By |2018-12-17T11:36:39-06:00October 23rd, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

This week’s Curriculum Connection is a video in which Director of Teaching and Learning Balazs Dibuz shares some of the tools and activities our preprimary students use to develop early number sense.


The units of study described in this video were developed by the Math in the City Program, City Colleges of New York.

15 10, 2014

Introducing . . . The Arts @ Ancona

By |2018-12-17T11:36:43-06:00October 15th, 2014|Curriculum Connection|0 Comments

quiltsAncona has a three-dimensional commitment to arts education: we provide a strong academic foundation by developing visual and musical literacy, equipping students with the skills to produce and appreciate art as well as to apply in other disciplines; we support students in finding the power in their own voices, expressing their ideas and feelings through a variety of modalities and media; and, finally, we enable students to nourish their inner lives by providing multiple entry points into the realm of personal expression and cultural exchange. Because of this commitment, the visual and performing arts are integral and integrated parts of the Ancona experience for every child.

Students engaging in art in our Montessori PrePrimary early education programChildren begin to engage in art as an essential component of our Montessori program. The classroom art area offers children opportunities for exploring and experimenting with a variety of media. As in other areas of the classroom, children are free to choose to work in the art area on projects of their own imagining. Such open-ended art activities provide young children with means for exploring and expressing their creativity. At the same time, teachers introduce a progression of art exercises that help the child to develop the fine motor skills (coloring, cutting, gluing, painting, drawing, weaving and tracing) that empower the child to create art independently. This year, Angela Ford, our Primary School art teacher, is spending three hours every morning in the preprimary classrooms to enhance the children’s experience with materials in the art area. The prepared environment is always full of seasonal natural materials and the staples of any art studio–paints, pencils, paper, and more.

Primary students at the Ancona School playing recorderOur preprimary children also begin to learn about music from the very youngest age. They explore rhythm, tone, melody, and other fundamentals of musical structure through fun, movement-based activities, and they even get to sing for an audience together in our school assemblies. One of the challenges for our 1st and 2nd graders comes when they begin playing recorders and have to practice every day. It soon becomes apparent (to both students and their parents) that while practice may not make perfect, it teaches children patience and perseverance–allowing them to become competent players of the pipes in no time at all. When primary students perform as a group, they experience the power of playing in unison and harmony, and they soon set their sights on the more complex ensembles they will join in their middle school years.

Because Ancona is committed to helping students develop their own voices and to exploring areas that inspire or interest them, we are now offering a broader range of music education in the Middle School. Every 5th and 6th grade student learns both a band instrument with Mr. Baldwin and keyboards, with some vocal work, with Elizabeth Hamlett. After these two years of exposure to a variety of instruments and modalities, students choose to continue their musical careers in Advanced Band or Integrated Performing Arts in 7th and 8th grades. Band is a place for our students to rise to the next level of practice and performance on the musical instrument of their choice, while IPA allows students to engage in a variety of performing arts, including singing, dancing, acting or even playing accompaniment on an instrument when appropriate. This new class is being developed this year by a team of Ancona teachers–Elizabeth Hamlett, Rebecca Kotler, Allen Makere, and Kristy Mosbey, who our students know from her work the after school program.

The addition of this new dimension to the middle school music program means that students can better find a point of entry into the performing arts–potentially expanding their repertoire of self-expression and certainly their appreciation for the arts. Many of our student singers and musicians will be sharing what they have learned at upcoming assemblies, and the Band, Keyboard/Choral, and Performing Arts programs will have quite a lot to showcase at the Winter Concert, and will have opportunities to perform to wider audiences at local venues, such as nursing homes, local theaters, and other schools as well.

The Integrated Performing Arts class rehearsing for their first show–at the Halloween assembly.



Art Connections:

Arts are integrated into the general curriculum at the Ancona School in ChicagoThroughout the school year, there are many interdisciplinary units of study that incorporate the arts into other subjects, such as science, social studies, and even math. Whether the arts are included explicitly, as in the quilting for Colonial Day, the study of the Dust Bowl through folk songs, or the practice of scientific illustration, or implicitly, as in the attention to the aesthetic dimension of project displays or the performance skills involved in presenting to an audience, visual and musical literacy are often leveraged to enhance students understanding, skills, and experience. We will explore some of these in Curriculum Connections to come!

To see what students are learning in all our arts programming at Ancona, as well as how these connect with other areas of study, please visit our Landscape of Learning where you can look up Music and Art for every level.