Challenging Minds, Nurturing Spirits, Honoring Individuality as we start a new school year at Friends School
Introduction by Jenefer Donovan, Friends School Board Chair with excerpts from our division directors (Jessie Vanden Hogen, Mandy Stepanovsky and Shelby Pawlina)
The first weeks of school are an exciting time of building the wonderful community and norms that carry us through the school year and for which Friends School is known. Across the school from Preschool, through the elementary and middle school years and into the Teacher Preparation Program, Friends School is already challenging minds, nurturing spirits and honoring individuality. We invite you to read these back-to-school updates from our program directors.
PRESCHOOL NEWS UPDATE (& Parent Reading Recommendations for all ages)
The Preschool is off to a great start in co-creating our new communities. We had a great New Parent Orientation, delightful day of Class Lemonades, and welcoming Home Visits. Included in this new batch of morning preschool families are some old friends and some new friends. We are growing connections and building trust with parents and children as we set out to create a very gentle, supportive and successful first school experience for the littlest ones. We take our jobs very seriously as we know the dynamics of the gifts and challenges in beginning the journey of separation.
With Head of School Honor Taft’s 4 trail-markers in mind – 1) Social and Emotional Literacy, 2) Creativity, Collaboration and Communication, 3) Rich Academics, and 4) Diversity, Social Justice and Service Learning – the preschool team picked up a few books for our summer reading. NOTE: Some books and authors definitely challenged our thinking and beliefs as well as gave us new perspectives! Our ongoing commitment to professional education and best practices is part of what we believe makes us the best preschool in Boulder.
- Being at Your Best When Your Kids are at Their Worst – Practical Compassion in Parenting By Kim John Payne
- From Teaching to Thinking By Ann Pelo and Margie Carter
- Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers By Dr. Gabor Mate´
- It’s Ok Not to Share and Other Renegade rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids By Heather Shumaker
- StoryMaking – The Maker Movement Approach to Literacy for Early Learners By Michelle Kay Compton and Robin Chappele Thompson
What we came away with were some themes to work with throughout the year ahead: Empathy – Boundaries – Community – Play
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
“It looks so open in here!” “The school feels wonderful” “Everything is so light and bright.” These are just a few of the accolades heard as parents entered the elementary school for the first time this school year. It was a busy summer with painting, purging and preparing for students to arrive. The energy in the building has been full of anticipation and excitement for the year ahead. We have only been in school for a short time, but there is already much to celebrate.
We are already challenging minds through:
- Assignments and projects focused on celebrating our summer vacations and setting goals for the year ahead.
- 4th and 5th grade Invention Convention projects
- Implementation of the new math curriculum
- Benchmark testing in literacy and math
- Teacher participation in a day-long Design Thinking workshop with Future Design School that prepared them to bring design thinking into their classrooms this year.
We nurture spirits through:
- Welcoming our new Kindergarten friends and their families to the community, and new friends in other grades too.
- Implementation of Responsive Classroom practices in our K/1 classrooms after teachers participated in a week-long training. With the new implementation of full-day Kindergarten throughout Colorado, we continue to be the most intentional, nurturing, and best Kindergarten in Boulder.
- Time taken in each classroom to set class norms, create class constitutions and engage students in creating the type of learning environment they would like to have.
- Start of the 8 week parent Mindfulness workshop
We are honoring individuality through:
- The creation of a “cool down” space in the old copy room. This is a place where students can go to quietly draw, or jump on a trampoline when they need a moment to reset during the school day.
- Projects and assignments aimed at sharing individual interests/experiences as students get to know each other at the start of the school year.
- The creation of learning plans to further differentiate learning for students who need specific accommodations across subject areas.
- The exploration and celebration of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in 3rd Grade
MIDDLE SCHOOL NEWS UPDATE
The middle school has grown by over 50% this year, and the energy in the building is exciting and inspiring! This incredible growth is a great demonstration of the need for a new, more progressive Boulder Middle School option.
- Summer book discussions – Each grade had a book to read over the summer that Diane chose specifically for its appeal to middle schoolers. One parent of an 8th grader reported that her child LOVED the book so much…a first for him! Each class discussed their opinions of the book, character development, plot, and other aspects of the book. It was a nice way to begin an academic conversation while getting to know one another.
- Problem- solving activities – Remember the game of Mastermind with the colorful pegs? At the middle school there is a similar game that we play…Pico-Firme-Bago in which students have to guess a set of numbers in a particular order while being given feedback of the accuracy of their guesses. The cheers that come from the homeroom when the correct number is finally guessed/ revealed are always enthusiastic. On a physical level, the popular camp game Human Knot got students problem-solving in a different way. Nuno led good reflective sessions on the process, connecting this to group work and problem-solving in general.
- Camping Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park -Temple Grandin has discussed the importance of leveraging the skills of visual learners and making sure our children learn the basics of cooking, shopping, and fixing things- engaging in hands-on learning as much as possible. Our trips program is underpinned by these expectations. In the days before the trip, students developed the menu for the trip, went grocery shopping for the ingredients (comparing products, figuring out amounts, and managing a budget), and learned how to set up/ dismantle the tents independently. On the trip, every student had an opportunity to be on a cook team and clean up team. For some students, these were first time events. There is something about doing things that expand our comfort zones that builds a greater and more nuanced sense of self, increased self-awareness and self-advocacy. In middle school, this is what we are going for.
- All About Me – One of our first central activities is the “All About Me” assignment that culminates in a Gallery Walk before the camping trip. Each student creates a poster of their design and presentation that includes information about each person’s personal heroes, favorite books, important event in their lives, etc. These are great ways to get to know one another as well as serving as jumping in points for teachers to connect curriculum with student experiences. These will decorate the homeroom and hallways.
The school year is off to an incredible start, and we can’t wait for a full year of challenging minds, nurturing spirits, and honoring individuality in this incredible school community.Read More
by Erika Norman, Friends School K-5 Math Teacher
Math education has changed drastically in the years since most of us, as parents, were in classrooms, and in that time there has been a wealth of research about best practice as well as brain development around math learning. At Friends, we are constantly researching this best practice. We offer yearly Kindergarten and 1st grade parent math nights, we share updates in classroom newsletters throughout the year, and we spend each day cultivating a growth mindset for our young mathematicians through the work of Stanford’s Dr. Jo Boaler. Jo is one of the world’s leaders in math education and I was fortunate to attend her workshop Mathematical Mindsets at Stanford University last spring. Dr. Boaler dispels the notion of having a math brain or not a math brain. At Friends we believe that all students are mathematicians, writers, readers, scientists, and most importantly thinkers. All of them are capable of success with the right mindset and experiences.
Friends School students are asked more than just how to complete a mathematical procedure, but also how to apply their math knowledge in unique situations. They see math in the world around them, not just on a worksheet page. We strive to make real-life math connections for our students through hands-on opportunities to use their math understanding. A few such examples of this are the 4th and 5th grade coffee cart project, our current Friday fraction cooking projects, creating a 3-D Polyhedraville to augment the 3rd grade curriculum, using Intooba building kits for engineering challenges, and linking a 1st grade bird study to our measurement standards. At Friends, math relates to every day experiences
In March, Friends made the exciting decision to adopt a new math curriculum to augment the good work we are already doing. This past Fall and winter all of the lead elementary teachers, with Mandy and I, spent many hours after school looking at curriculum, meeting with companies, testing out lessons from various curriculum, talking to other educators and diving deeply into what we wanted for our kids and school to meet the needs of our students. We were looking for a curriculum that had a clear scope and sequence and one that met all the standards at every grade level from Kindergarten through 5th grade. We wanted a curriculum that was usable for teachers, had resources for families and students, and contained lots of manipulatives and visual models to help students build that conceptual understanding that research shows is vital for success in higher math. Finally, we wanted to make sure that whatever curriculum we adopted was rigorous in not only problem solving, but also in computational fluency.
After much deliberation, we have decided to adopt Bridges in Mathematics, a K-5 math curriculum from The Math Learning Center. Bridges has been reviewed nationally and ranks highly in all the categories we were seeking: focus and coherence, usability, rigor and mathematical practice. Additionally, we were impressed by the resources for parents and families to help educate and support their child’s math learning, as well as a professional development site for educators to continue to explore best practice for our young learners. Finally, we were excited that the curriculum has built-in curricular components for our math learners that need extension and a well-developed intervention program for our struggling mathematicians.
All the elementary lead teachers, Mandy, and I will be trained in the Bridges curriculum in May and August, with ongoing touch-points throughout the year. Continued professional development will occur throughout next school year to ensure that we are successful with this transition. It is an exciting time and we are thrilled that we were able to adopt this curriculum, which will blend so nicely into the work we have already been doing and make it just that much better for our students.
We look forward to bringing this exciting curriculum into our classrooms and introducing it to our student mathematicians. If you are interested in learning more about Bridges, you can visit https://www.mathlearningcenter.org/ or feel free to reach out to me, Honor, Mandy, or Caroline Long who has piloted Bridges in her classroom for the past year.Read More
by Chris Hollinger, PE Teacher & Director of AfterCare and Enrichment Programs
The Big Blue Blocks (BBBs) are here, and are capturing hearts and minds of the Friends School community! During the past week and a half, grades Kindergarten through fifth have had the opportunity to become familiar with this new and awesome addition to our playground. Each grade was separately introduced to the BBB’s. This served several purposes, including providing a low-stress environment when first using the equipment, age-appropriate comprehensive and inclusive discussions about safety and respecting school equipment, free play with like ages, and getting all kids involved in the pack-up process (cleaning up and storing BBBs).
Already the kids have been using the BBB’s to:
- create forts with water systems
- organize and play their own sports games
- create and problem solve ball ramps
- engage in fair-trading
- build items from speeder bikes to lawn mowers to giant cats
We are excited to introduce the BBBs to the community at large! You will see your child engage in unstructured, child-directed free play. And when weather permits, we’ll bring them outside.
This kind of play is critical to a child’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional development. The three core elements to the BBB’s are: Loose parts, a manipulable environment and “Play Associates” (“Play Associates” are your loving teachers and staff, trained to oversee an open setting where children can direct their own play, while maintaining a safe and welcoming environment). A changing collection of moveable or “loose” parts lets children make each play session a new experience. Children play most creatively in settings that they can manipulate..
Warning: With Big Blue Blocks, children are highly likely to have fun and learn!
Enjoy this short video of our students engaged in play with the BBB’s.Read More
by Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications
Third grade teacher Caroline Long is always looking for the next great adventure and thinking of ways she might weave it into an interesting lesson for her students. It’s just one of the things our students and parents love about Caroline and what makes her a great teacher.
Back in December, the great uncle of one of Caroline’s students shared something that sparked her interest. A 45-day expedition to Antarctica was about to take place and her students had the chance to be part of it. Through modern technology, a crew of scientists and marine exploration experts were allowing students around the world to track and interact with them via weekly video conferences as they boarded the S.A. Agulhas II on the Weddell Sea Expedition in Antarctica.
This program, offered through Reach the World, a nonprofit global education organization out of New York, connects schools with explorers and scientists around the world. It was the perfect segue to Caroline’s upcoming units on weather, explorers and other cultures. She started researching and even studied for a technical test she had to take over winter break in order to be considered for the program. She passed and she and her third graders were accepted into the program.
Caroline picked this particular expedition to share with her students for two reasons (with its connection to her curriculum):
- Environmental impact– The explorers were looking at the Larsen Sea ice shelf that broke off near the Weddell Sea in Antarctica in 2017. In particular, they were studying global warming’s effect on Antarctica and the broken ice shelf’s impact on water levels, the environment and the rich sea life that exists in this region. (Curriculum link: The class is studying weather and, in particular, they are looking at how climate change impacts weather and changes the overall climate in the U.S.)
- Finding the Endurance Shipwreck– Additionally, these explorers hope to use Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) to be the first to find Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance, which was lost in an ice floe off Antarctica in 1915 and never found again. All members of Shackleton’s crew survived, but all missions to find the ship have failed. (Curriculum link: The class is studying explorers, namely the Spanish and French explorers who settled in Colorado, their country of origin, and what it took to travel all the way to Colorado.)
Caroline receives an email from the ship every Friday and on the following Monday the students learn of their assignment and plan their weeks around the call with a variety of experts on the expedition. Soon the students made connections with Holly, the main scientist on the ship, and began following her blog (many of our students used their time during Readers Workshop to read about the expedition). John Shears, one of the scientists on the ship, offered his thoughts on the expedition and the kids surprisingly learned that John won the Polar Medal from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Wow! The students began keeping logs of what they were learning, and a list of questions and what they wanted to learn from the explorers. They wanted to know a lot. For example:
- What makes this expedition different from Shackleton’s Endurance and what would happen if the SA. Agulhas II got stuck just like the Endurance?
- How on earth do they get all that safety equipment and people to Antarctica?
- How do planes stop when they are landing on a sheet of ice?
- What were the scientists learning about wildlife in Antarctica?
- What does Antarctica have to do with Mars?
- What are the explorers learning about other cultures since they are mostly just encountering animals?
- We know a lot about collaboration at Friends School, but why is collaboration in Antarctica so important?
- Tell us where flexibility, adaptability and unpredictability lessons were part of this expedition?
The answers are fascinating! See one of our third grader experts who would be happy to share answers to these questions and all they’ve learned about this project. (Teaser: You can’t touch or hug a penguin in Antarctica unless it’s on the runway, and NASA is studying Antarctica in the hopes it will help astronauts one day live on Mars.)
The students are particularly excited about their last video conference which will be a YouTube live stream with John Shears reflecting back on everything they learned on their voyage: has the climate changed and what are the effects, has the ice gotten thinner, and…did they find the Endurance? We can’t wait to find out!
It turns out modern-day explorers are all around us.You don’t have to go to Antarctica to be an explorer. Visits from two Friends alumni will bring modern-day expeditions right into the classroom. Phoebe Norman (Friends School Fifth Grade Class of 2011) visited 3rd grade last week, and Michael Hansen (Friends School Fifth Grade Class of 2007) will visit soon to share their own experiences of exploring the world and learning about new cultures. Through Where There Be Dragons, Phoebe went to Senegal and Guinea for three months and stayed with two different host families. She shared with the students about adapting to a new religion, living in different homes, eating/cooking different food in different ways, and learning new languages. The kids were all surprised to hear that in some places there wasn’t technology or access to WIFI and phones and that she was only able to communicate back home a few times via email. They loved seeing her pictures and learning about a new country and her experiences
as an explorer. Michael will be visiting the students in March to talk with them about his annual college trips to Argentina to study their culture and business economy. After graduating from college, he traveled to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro where he was immersed in the African culture and completed this expedition that was both physically and mentally challenging. There were challenges and surprises along the way and times where he needed to adjust the course of his travels. But all of them were worth it for the people he met, the places he saw, and some of the unidentifiably delicious food he ate.
Whether it’s Antarctica or Africa or just around our beautiful state, Caroline is always challenging her students to reach beyond their own cultures and learn more about our larger world. She hopes the Weddell Sea Expedition project and the real-life expeditions of their Friends classmates who walked our halls long ago spark a desire to continue to explore and discover new lands and cultures. It’s easy to search online for any place on earth these days. While technology can help us explore different lands and cultures, true exploration happens by actually physically traveling to lands near and far and immersing yourself in the culture.
Which one of our current third graders’ future expeditions will inspire the next generation of Friends students to explore our greater world?Read More
By Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications
The Coffee Cart
We all know that Friends School teachers, like their students, are lifelong learners. Constantly honing their craft and looking for new ways to engage their students, 4th grade teacher Emma Thomas and 5th grade teacher Leigh Houser put their skills and expertise together this fall to try something new at Friends School. What resulted was a real-world lesson plan that provided not only a worthwhile hands-on learning experience for our students, but also gave our parents and staff a jolt to start their mornings.
Both Leigh and Emma began the year teaching all subjects to their respective students to establish community, rituals, and routines in their classrooms. They soon realized the benefit of each teacher sharing their own expertise with the other’s students. So began “content specializing” with Leigh teaching math to both 4th and 5th graders, Emma teaching literacy to both groups, and both teachers teaching combined 4th/5th classes in science and social studies. This thoughtful and meaningful approach to teaching gently introduces this age group to how middle school works, and the students get the best of both teachers.
So began the Coffee Cart project.
As part of content specializing as well as project-based learning, Leigh charged her students with coming up with a real-world business that they could set up and run by themselves, integrating all aspects of math. The business needed to anchor within it first unit of study in math, such as operations and numbers sense, addition/subtraction, division/multiplication. The students researched the best items to sell to our community including lemonade and baked goods and finally settled on coffee. Why coffee? What better way for our parents and staff to start their days on chilly autumn mornings than with a steaming cup of coffee. It turns out, it was the perfect product for our coffee-loving customers.
A few goals were set:
- Kids do it all: prep, brew coffee (with adult supervision), grind beans, sell
- All math is done without a calculator
- Adult-only customers (sorry, coffee-loving kids)
- Daily supplies are limited – when it sells out, we close for the morning
Preparation began several weeks in advance of the business’s opening day: Math, math and more math! Leigh worked with the kids on measurements, ratios, costs, and profits. Emma began working with the students on flyer and brochure design and writing persuasive pitches on buying our coffee vs. the other guy’s (focused on advocating for a particular “Be the Change” project that the coffee cart proceeds would support). Oh yeah, the coffee. What kind of coffee should they sell?
The students contacted Josh Crane of The Coffee Ride, a Boulder-based business that roasts and offers weekly bike-delivered coffee beans to local Boulder coffee lovers. Josh was excited to help the kids with their project and taught them everything they needed to know from how to brew coffee using the French Press, the ratio of grounds to water used, the different kinds of coffee beans, how to roast them, and finally what goes in to labeling and packaging the beans. Josh shared some of the real-life problems a business owner faces and of the ways he uses math on a daily basis to solve problems and run a successful business. He and Leigh even created “problems of the week” which the kids worked diligently to solve.
The students also learned about materials cost and calculating profit, based on those costs. Josh sold his beans to the students at cost and will be reimbursed from the profits they make from their weekly sales. Cups and lids were generously donated by EcoCup and school chef Dacia Horn supplied the sugar. After the purchase of four French presses and a supply of milk, they were ready for opening day.
The Coffee Cart opened for business on October 15 and served its final cup of coffee on December 20. For those two months, twice a week before school, rotating groups of 4 students held specific jobs including brewer (with adult supervision and delivery), sales, barista, price calculator (without using a calculator), cashier, and customer service. On those mornings, parents gathered with their cups of delicious steaming coffee while they took a few extra moments to enjoy conversation with each other. Teachers rushed over before the start of class to get their cup of enjoyment. A time or two, a thoughtful parent delivered a piping hot beverage to the staff on parking lot duty. The vibe on the steps of the elementary front porch was the same as a buzzing, happily bustling coffee shop.
The students received weekly accountings of their sales and studied gross and net sales, tips, and even replied to happy customer reviews through their sales app. After weighing all of their options, they decided that proceeds would fund their campaign to Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots project. Roots and Shoots is a youth service program that challenges students to map their community to determine its potential problems and help make a change. Leigh and Emma’s students will focus on homelessness as their community project and their work on the Roots and Shoots project will tie into the 4th/5th grade current social studies “Be The Change” unit.
Leigh already has plans for future hands-on math units anchored in real-life projects including fractions (cooking), geometry (tiny houses, raised garden beds), data and probability (games and surveys). Emma’s upcoming literacy lessons include narrative writing (witness statements and character writing for our upcoming government unit), a book club focusing on different kinds of American experiences, and a deep dive into the following questions: Who has power in the US? How did they get their power? How do we use our power?
Yes, content specializing by our dynamic teaching duo of Leigh and Emma, and projects like The Coffee Cart, prepare our students for middle school and gives them a chance to interact with a larger social group. Perhaps more important are the real-life skills like collaboration, communication, relationship building, and teamwork that, mixed with rich academics, prepare kids to thrive beyond the Friends School walls to become engaging, contributing, life-loving citizens. Just what this world needs right now. Pass the cream and sugar, please.Read More
Art is everywhere at Friends School! These beautiful wings are a collaborative project by Kindergarten through 3rd grade (in the coming months, look for permanent wings on the playground). Meanwhile, 4th grade is “tagging” the playground with positive messages using chalk spray paint and homemade stencils. Look on the 5th grade windows to see their “hopes and dreams” outlines/portraits. Want your own wing photo? Go to the Art & Music room!Read More
Food, fun and friends were the theme of the night before school as our new elementary families got together for a picnic on our playground on a warm summer night. We are thrilled to welcome so many new families into our community.Read More
Our elementary students were promoted from one grade to the next at tonight’s Silver & Gold Celebration. Such a beautiful evening under the tent celebrating our students wtih 5th grade speeches and appreciations, fond farewells to departing staff, and honoring our alumni class of 2011 who graduated from high school this year.Read More