An interview of Annika Nygren and Krysten Fort-Catanese by Meg Hansen
Kindergarten teacher, Annika Nygren, loves science. Her eyes light up when she describes Kindergarteners as natural scientists, filled with curiosity and endless questions and theories.
Upon learning about Kindergarten’s recent science unit on the five senses, third grade teacher and Friends own mindfulness master Krysten Fort-Catanese asked Annika if she’d considered integrating mindfulness into the unit. Krysten trains our staff, students and parents (a new class is coming in February) in mindfulness practices and also integrates it into just about every subject. Among a number of resources, Krysten recommended “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland to Annika to help turn one of our Kindergarten’s historical science units into a deeper connection to the five senses and mindful awareness.
To begin the unit, Annika asked her students “When we eat, our bodies are using much more than our sense of taste. Do we always focus and try to connect to all of our senses when we eat?” They didn’t have the answer just yet, but they were excited to find out. All they knew was that the project involved Craisins and that made them excited.
The unit involved practicing the five different senses and then mindfully experiencing those senses using a single Craisin (this practice is known more formally as “mindfulness of eating”):
A field trip to Celestial Seasonings teas helped the students put all their senses to work: smelling, seeing and feeling the loose tea, listening to the sounds of the machinery, and finally tasting the delicious tea. The students agreed. They hadn’t really been connecting with their senses when they were eating (or drinking). Before the 5-senses unit, a cup of tea was just a cup of tea. By taking the time to be present and really notice what their senses were telling them, they were able to connect with all five senses that made up their experience.
Annika had one last challenge for her students. Several times a week, Kindergarteners practice “Golden Moments”, a silent pause in the day when the energy in the classroom seems a little elevated. This practice centers the group, slows down the nervous system and gives them 45-60 seconds where they practice being still. During the 5-senses unit, the students focused on each of the senses during these silent Golden Moments. While silent, they noticed the sound of a locker closing in the hallway, a bird chirping outside the classroom window, the sound of the water fountain, a teacher’s voice. They learned that sounds are happening all the time, but we are able to tune them out to focus on what’s right in front of us. Mindfulness helps that focus.
At Friends, our shared definition of mindfulness with children is: paying attention with kindness and curiosity to ourselves, to other people, and to the world around us. We view mindfulness as an integral part of our everyday life and ultimately practice it as a “way of being.” Krysten has rolled out the full “Paws b” curriculum with several upper elementary classes and will be teaching the “full.b for Teens” to 8th graders in the new year. This curriculum focuses on mindfulness and neuroscience and the interplay between the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the insula. Children use this knowledge of brain science as they build up a toolkit of mindfulness practices that can help them throughout the day – taking the time to notice and be present, calming the nervous system, and getting the mind ready for learning. This sensing mode of inquiry helps to ground us, enhancing our ability to then engage with a calmer, clearer perspective of what’s happening within, to, and around us. Mindfulness practices provide opportunities for students and staff to calm, and ground their minds and bodies shifting out of “thinking mode” into a “sensing mode” of mind—establishing balance between “doing” and “being.”
So whether it’s a Craisin, a juicy apple, or a delicious piece of chocolate cake, we hope you’ll try this mindfulness experiment just as our Kindergarteners did, the next time you consider your favorite food.Read More
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
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