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How Are Teachers Thinking About Documentation?

As part of our year-long commitment to thinking about ways to document student work, we kicked off the initial Lower Division faculty meeting by creating a piece of art using materials that are commonly found in any Lower Division classroom. The objective of this exercise was to allow teachers time to reflect as they created. During their work time teachers were asked to think about about the following questions: How did this activity help you to reflect? Process? What in this activity can you bring back to your classroom? What were the skills you used to complete the activity? How could you prompt more thinking and reflection into your classroom routines?

Once teachers completed their piece of art they were asked to partner with a colleague and find a way to connect their two pieces. Teachers had thoughtful conversations with colleagues, problem solved with one another and in the process found meaning in each other’s art. Thanks to Megan Haddadi, Head of Academic Technology, we even learned about a new tool to document our work! Click the image below to check out our Storify timeline:  

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Lower Division Goals for the 2016-17 Year

As I write this post, teachers are busy preparing their classrooms to receive students on Wednesday. An integral part of the back-to-school preparation that isn’t seen by students or families is goal setting. Each summer teachers and administrators set personal and division-wide goals and commit to checking in with a supervisor throughout the course of the year. As outlined in my recent back-to-school letter, the two initiatives that the teachers in the Lower Division and I will focus on this year are documenting student learning and parent communication.

When educators document learning as it happens in a classroom, that evidence tells a story to anyone who views it. Viewing this of evidence with colleagues, coaches, educational leaders, and yes, even parents, benefits both teachers and students. It makes learning visible and provides incredible insight into next steps, student needs, curricular directions, instructional strategies and more! Together, the Lower Division faculty and I will tackle the question, “How can documentation help to further student understanding?” This question was at the heart of the learning at Project Zero (www.pz.harvard.edu) where seven Lower Division faculty and I took part in a summer institute dedicated to investigating the nature of intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity and more.

In addition to thinking about documenting learning, the Lower Division faculty and I were inspired by the article, The Positive Results of Parent Communication, which stated,

“Parents and teachers are two of the most important contributors to a student’s educational success. When parents and teachers communicate well with one another, they are able to support student learning together. As such, communication between home and school is vital.”

The article sparked curiosity about how, what, and how often we communicate with parents, which led to a day-long summer workshop that I had the great opportunity to co-lead with Katrina Mills, Lower Division Math Specialist. Lower Division faculty analyzed the cycle of teacher-to-parent communication over the course of one school year and our conversations resulted in setting division-wide goals for effective and predictable parent communication in 2016-17. I am confident that the work we engaged in around this topic will build even stronger relationships with families.

As the school year unfolds, I look forward to the delight both you and your child will experience as you watch the classroom come to life.Take time to notice the bulletin boards. Pause to appreciate the process that leads to your child’s ever growing understanding. Enjoy the regular communication you receive from your child’s classroom teacher and most importantly, use the content of that communication to ask your child about their day.

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Members of the Lower Division Team at Project Zero this past July

7 Tips for a Smooth Summer to School Transition

I used to know the start of another school year was around the corner when the school backpacks would reappear from closets or under the bed. My children would bemoan the fact that school was starting but in secrecy, they were organizing their backpacks and preparing for all the opportunities a new school year would bring. The start of school should be filled with excitement, possibility, and stress-free. The tips below will assist in making the beginning of a new school year smooth and enjoyable for all.  See you on Wednesday, September 7!

1. Establish New Bedtime Routines

If you are like me and my family bedtimes are difficult to enforce in the summer. Now is the time to begin insisting on earlier bedtimes and earlier wake-ups so that when the first day of school arrives your child isn’t cranky and unwilling to get up. As was noted in an article by Simply Greater, “The average elementary student needs 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Sleepiness affects a student’s ability to perform and get along well with family and friends, so getting a proper night’s sleep can avert numerous problems. Conquer morning madness by establishing consistent wake-up times and morning routines.”

 2. Get Ready The Night Before: 

The night before school will be full of excitement, and it’s the perfect time to start getting ready for the big day. Lay out backpacks, clothes, and anything else needed for the day to cut down on morning chaos. In my family, once everything is laid out for the first day we celebrate the start of a new school year with a family dinner. We take the time to reflect on favorite summer memories and think about our hopes for the new school year. It is a fun way to alleviate the before school jitters.

3. Make A Backpack Plan

There is nothing worse than feeling the pressure of not being able to locate something for school as you are heading out the door. I am never long on patience first thing in the morning, so I found it helpful to instruct Ellie and Thacher to store homework in their backpack and never on the kitchen counter where it can get lost or soaked with spilled juice. This will ensure they have every assignment  (or at least most!) ready for turning in and will lead to a more relaxed start to the day. The same holds true for school library books; after they are finished reading, the books should be put back in their bags, so they are prepared for library day.

4. Soothe Your Child’s Anxiety

Parents and children alike can feel nervous about starting a new school year. A great way to calm everyone’s nerves is to read a book addressing the topic of beginning a new school year. Children also love hearing stories about the time when you were in school. I know in my house a good story goes a long way! Some of my favorites books to read are:

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5. Tackle The Paperwork

Once the first day arrives, dedicate time to reading through the school and class information that comes home. Be sure you understand homework policies, birthday-treat rules, absence procedures and the daily schedule. Reach out to your child’s teacher if you have any questions or concerns.

6. Set Your Child Up For Success

During the first few weeks, support your child with reminders about homework, library books and items such as sneakers for PE days. As your child gets in sync with the school-year routines and learns how to handle new responsibilities, you will most likely be able to give up the reminders. The better they transition into the new year, the better it will be for you too.

7. Be On Time!

Being on time can be the number one way to ensure that everyone starts their day on the right foot.  It is important to arrive at school by 8:15. Students need time to greet their friends, catch-up on work and be ready for morning meeting. There’s nothing more anxiety-provoking than being rushed out the door and feeling like you are missing out on the fun by arriving late to the classroom.  

First Fabulous Field Day!

Walking into school this morning the brilliant blue sky reminded me of the first Field Day held in June for Grades 1-3. With vision and leadership from the PE Department, classroom teachers, and our recent grade IX graduates, students in grades 1-3 completed obstacle courses, relay races and parachute games. There were also temporary tattoos, laughter, and smiles and most importantly an opportunity for students and teachers in grades 1-3 to laugh, play, and enjoy being together.  Click HERE to see some more highlights from this great day! 

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Celebrating Math and Summer!

This year’s Math Mornings in K, I, and II classrooms provided fun and engaging opportunities for families and students to play math games, and to work together on math activities in relaxed classroom environments. Math Mornings were designed to highlight the games that are an integral component of our math program. Games are an enjoyable and appealing way to promote practice with skills and concepts that are critical to the development of computational fluency as well as, strategic and flexible thinking. Math Mornings also allowed parents to see the math curriculum in action, to explore mathematical ideas with their children, and to see their child’s growth as their mathematical thinking changed and developed over time. Because games provide an excellent opportunity for meaningful practice over time, we hope that playing games at school carries over into the home throughout the school year and summer. Families can find some terrific (and fun!) math games and activities on our SUMMER MATH RESOURCES page on the school website and in the GREEN SUMMER WORK folders that went home during the last week of school.

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Happy Summer!