Approaches to Teaching Coding in the Lower School

By Emily Cruz, Spanish/Technology and Brian Wanyoike, Lower School and Homeroom Teacher

While remote learning has its challenges, Open Grace this summer has allowed us to try out different approaches to teaching coding to Lower School students. During the summer, we have taught two introductory coding classes: one for students entering first and second grade and another for students entering third and fourth grade.

Beginner Coding for Grades 1-2 with Ms. Cruz
While remote learning may have brought new challenges, students in Coding 1 & 2 were excited for more. This summer they explored beginner coding through a collection of Hello Ruby excerpts and activities that creatively presented fundamental coding concepts. The warm-up exercises from each chapter allowed students to practice computational thinking and apply it to their coding puzzles. We used Code.org as our curriculum guide and Tynker for extra practice. The coding concepts included sequencing, loops, conditionals and events. With their newfound coding abilities, students excitedly engaged in creative projects that allowed them to program their very own game designs and stories. We’re having a fantastic time exploring the unimaginable possibilities of code. 

Beginner Coding for Grades 3-4 with Mr. Wanyoike
With students entering third and fourth grade, we connected the coding work from class with real world applications. Starting with the concept of an algorithm being “a series of directions to help complete a task,” students created algorithms to help me find my iPad. Discussions about algorithms, which varied from how to create PB&J sandwiches to how satellites orbit the Earth, allowed students an entryway into thinking about carefully creating their coding algorithms.

In each Code.org module, students learn key concepts in “Unplugged Activities” before jumping into creating code. Our discussions of those software engineering concepts helps to guide our thinking as we create algorithms for a sloth dance party or even to create individualized “Star Wars” games. Through it all, we remember that every software engineer, young and old alike, must get comfortable with debugging, which is when you find and fix errors in your code. We celebrate our mistakes knowing that by working through them, we are on our way to becoming even better programmers!

Using the World as a Tool to Learn About Physics & Renewable Energy

By Schuyler Semlear, Science

Fourth grade science students studied physics and renewable energy this spring. Since we were engaged in remote learning, students approached this study in a different way than fourth graders in past years. Below you can watch a few examples of their creative approach to this work.

As part of the Physics study, students created visual representations of waves, in particular the parts of a wave. Students created 3D models, videos, slideshows and posters to teach their classmates about parts of waves including; crest, trough, amplitude and wavelength. 

As part of the fourth grade renewable energy study, each student researched a renewable energy source of their choice. Students had the option to be creative with how they presented their information, from posters and slideshows to working 3D models. The renewable energy project was their final project in fourth grade science.

7th Grade History Research with Renewed Independence

By Georgina Wells, History

The culminating assignment of each year of middle school history is a research essay. This year, as the 7th grade approached theirs — on the Civil War — and it was clear a return to school was not happening, I worried about how the students would manage to write the essay without access to library resources, or to the same help from me and their classmates. So I gave them a choice: those who wanted to write an essay could, or they could come up with a research project either from a list of options, or of their own devising. The only requirements were that all projects must have written text thoroughly researched from a variety of sources, must be organized into sections, and must include citations, a primary quote, and a thesis statement. I wanted students to be able to embrace the independence that is baked right into distance learning, but also have the opportunity for a little bit of fun. Zoom school had sucked most of that out of class, and essays are not traditionally the assignment that elicit the most excitement. 

A few students did choose the essay, for a variety of good reasons, and did a fantastic job. Most took on the task of creating something new. There was some initial anxiety about the lack of strict parameters from the kids (“How will I know where to put my thesis?”), and from me (will these projects demand the same rigor as an essay?) but those quickly vanished. The students embraced the independence of the project, and I, once I began to receive their work, no longer worried about its rigor.

One student filmed a TV news segment from the imagined frontlines of the New York City Draft Riots, appearing as a variety of people in different costumes. Another wrote a series of letters between famous spies and President Lincoln or Jefferson Davis. I received articles about Ulysses S. Grant’s achievements, written from the perspective of different time periods. Medical newspapers and magazines. Documentaries on Frederick Douglass, Gettysburg, and Lincoln’s views on slavery. A digitally designed children’s book on Harriet Tubman and a hand-written one complete with beautifully drawn illustrations on the Emancipation Proclamation. A podcast interview about the blockade and a podcast about Clara Barton with impressive voice acting from parents. A Civil War photo album. A model of the battle of Gettysburg with full captions and a rewritten Gettysburg Address. 

We have been sharing the projects with one another in our Zoom classes, but I hoped the students’ work could be more widely recognized. I’m grateful to Mr. Nichols for his help in putting together this website as a showcase for their hard work, creativity, and initiative, and which the 7th graders were able to share with their friends and family.

The Three Most Important Math Questions for EC and LS Classrooms

By Leah Silver, Math Specialist (JK-4)

While so much has changed in our teaching in the last few months, the essence of the math classroom has remained the same. Planning, teaching and visiting math classes JK through Grade 5 in recent weeks has helped me sharpen my answers to the following questions: What can our digital tools do really well? And what can our teachers do that our digital tools never can? Our digital tools like DreamBox give our students immediate and targeted feedback on their operational and problem-solving work, and we’re learning how to let these tools help us make the best use of our teaching time. 

Our teachers do incredible work every day that our digital tools cannot—and will not—ever be able to do. Our teachers work masterfully to guide our students to better articulate their mathematical thinking, learn to ask excellent questions, make keen observations and get comfortable in solving complex problems, even when the answer isn’t immediately clear. We know that the ability to work collaboratively on complex problems and express ideas clearly will be two of the most valued qualities as this group of students continues to grow up. We also know that our students’ ability to make sense of data presented to them and reach logical conclusions is essential in a world where we receive information from an infinite number of sources. Our teachers prioritize these and many other concepts in their work with students each day — no matter the distance. 

While there are so many different strategies teachers use to help students come to new understandings, one is asking the right question at the right time. Whether in a kindergarten Number Corner session or a fourth grade multiplication strategy talk, these three key questions help our students build their computational fluency: solve problems accurately, use efficient strategies and show flexibility.

Students in Mrs. Patton and Ms. Ferdinand’s Kindergarten class (the Blue Room) proudly show their completed work after an exciting math game.

Question 1: What do you notice?

Teachers methodically ask this throughout their math classes. Asking younger students what they notice helps them to make connections and to sort and categorize — an essential early childhood skill. We ask our youngest students what they notice about a group of objects, about how many days we’ve been in school, about a graph or a chart that collects student answers to the daily question. And we ask our oldest students what they notice about a set of numbers or a particular strategy to help them formulate and articulate math strategies. Asking students what they notice encourages them to put together all the math and logic learning that is in their heads to try to put some order and sense into what’s in front of them. 

Mr. Haltom based his (beautiful!) calendar creation on the one from the Bridges curriculum, adding in important days for the Grace community. He asked our youngest learners in Junior Kindergarten what they notice about the emerging pattern, and what they thought might come next. What do you notice?

Question 2: What do you wonder?

Encouraging curiosity is one of the highest priorities in our math classes. Curiosity breeds hunger for more learning and also breeds an eagerness to make sense of what’s around us. Our second grade teachers recently led an activity which gave students the opportunity to come up with questions usually left to curriculum writers. With a given amount of information, what questions could you ask? For example, if you know that there are 124 red legos and half as many blue, what questions could you come up with? 

Our students might ask:

  • How many blue legos are there?
  • How many legos are there in total?
  • How many more red legos are there than blue legos?

When we ask students to generate questions, we dismantle the notion that questions only come from those who are ‘in charge’ or older. Giving children the opportunity to come up with their own questions is one way we can show that we value their thinking encourage their developing curiosity.

Question 3: How do you know?

Verbalizing thinking is useful both in and out of the math classroom, and our students spend a lot of time writing and thinking not only about the numbers of math but about the words, too. Teachers are often encouraging students to move beyond a common initial student response, “I just know,” and instead give a reason or strategy. “I know that is ten because I started with five and added two more, which got me to seven. And I know that seven and three more equals ten.” We want to teach students that intuition does have a place in the math classroom, and that there is value to articulating what and how you are thinking.

Mr. Wanyoike guides fourth graders through a problem set from Bridges. These problems lend themselves to certain strategies that the class has been focusing on, encouraging them to flexibly solve problems and justify their thinking along the way.
In a recent first grade class, associate teacher Ms. Alonso poses a task for students. There are 18 dots all together, and some are covered up. How many are under the ‘Splat’? How do you know?

I am really proud of all of the math learning and teaching at Grace in the last few months, and I can’t wait for the day we get to safely be together, hearing our students excitedly call out everything they notice and wonder.

Dances for Very Small Spaces

By Jenny Pommiss, Dance

When Grace was forced to shut its doors, the advanced, senior-only Dance Repertory Class began a project I called, “Dances for Very Small Spaces.” The project was born out of quarantine and the desire, in fact, the need, to keep moving. It was inspired by “52 Portraits” (2016), which was a digital collaboration between British choreographer Jonathan Burrows, composer Matteo Fargion, and video maker Hugo Glendinning. In class, students were asked to look at their homes, the places where they may have lived all their lives, in a completely new way. They scouted locations for a dance that would not only use their bedroom or living room as a backdrop, but as a dance partner. Students were encouraged to have the location drive their choreographic explorations. They were then asked to film themselves from a variety of different perspectives, add music, and edit that footage together. At the same time, the students were asked to take time to reflect on what Dance has meant to them at Grace, how the pandemic has affected them, and how it may continue to affect Dance as a discipline moving forward. At the end, I whittled their final projects down to a minute each and layered their interviews over their chosen sound so that they could be strung together. The result was a collection of deeply personal movement portraits that represented four years of growth in the Dance Program at Grace. 

Check our Website in the coming days to see the students’ full final projects. In the meantime, please hear their voices and watch their dancing in a beautiful compilation. You can watch Dancing With Big Hearts in Small Spaces: Senior Edition, using the password: Seniors.

This project then became a component of a larger, full Ensemble piece called “Dancing with Big Hearts in Small Spaces.” This was a digital reimagining of the Ensemble’s canceled live performance, which was set to go up on April 17 and 18 in Tuttle Hall. As Devon M. ‘20 says in the piece, “Honestly, when I first heard that schools were going to be shut down, I did not think that Dance was going to continue”. To his surprise, the Ensemble continued to meet twice weekly to move together and explore what it means to dance alone and in place. Visiting teacher Simon Thomas-Train and I collaborated on the concept and direction. Josie M. ‘22 offers, “We have kept going….we are finding other ways to keep moving…and to keep the spirit of dance and the amazing gift of dance alive.” Each week, after a physical warm-up, students were given prompts, such as “make a dance in a doorway” or “use today’s headlines as an inspiration for a dance”. They were then asked to film themselves using a variety of different camera angles. The dancers also interviewed themselves, which gave their virtual audience the opportunity to delve deeper into the dancers’ creative process. You can view the full performance here, using the password: Bighearts.

For the virtual finale, I was inspired by the choreography and editing techniques used in a music video by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down that was produced in the early days of the quarantine and choreographed specifically for Zoom. I loved how it utilized the video medium to make dancers appear connected in new and exciting ways. You can view the Finale here, using the password: Finale.

Bon Appétit! French Baking Inspires French Students

By Sylvie Larue, Middle School French Teacher

 I knew long before Spring Break that I would teach 6th grade French and replace Ms. Antonio who had a beautiful baby girl in March. Before she left to take care of her family, she told me that I had to teach two units about food and the city of Paris. In front of my computer during the vacations, I wrote a curriculum about how to order food at a restaurant and eventually found a dialogue online. The students learned the vocabulary, listened to pronunciations and intonations, and practiced reading the dialogue in our Zoom class. I prepared a slideshow with all the delicious food that the “customer” in the dialogue was ordering: Salade au chèvre chaud (goat cheese salad), boeuf bourguignon and tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin is a specialty from the Center-Val de Loire region of France. It was accidentally created by two sisters, Stephanie and Caroline Tatin. Students were challenged to find out what had happened. We laughed a lot imagining what could have happened in that kitchen in the 1880s. Finally, students got it: the pie became an upside down tart because the chef had placed the tart in the oven the wrong way! To finish the class, we watched a cooking video to learn how to make this fabulous desert. Nothing else was expected. It was about sharing a good time together on Zoom. I posted the video on Gracenet and to my surprise the next day, Charlie had baked. On the weekend, I received photos and emails from Chloe, Bo, Olivia, Thea, Felix, Lulu…it was truly a treat. The video and  the lesson had inspired them. They took charge of their learning experience, they were curious about the French gastronomy, some used their French writing skills to write a critic about the tart: They made a French teacher’s dream come true!

Check out this recipe from PBS to make your very own tarte tatin, and check out the slideshow below to see all of the students’ tasty tarts!

I Got You (I Feel Good)

Social distancing hasn’t stopped the GCS Jazz Ensemble from (digitally) jamming together. In an effort to get everyone’s week off to a bright start, the high school troupe put together a spirited cover of James Brown’s iconic song, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, which Mr. Kadajski, High School Instrumental Music Teacher, sent to all students, faculty and staff.

Mr. Kadajski described for us the students’ experience of creating this piece, as well as his process for putting it all together:

We’ve been having zoom classes in a way that is similar to how we have in-person classes during school.  We start by tuning, followed by a warm-up on a scale and rhythm. Usually I play my sax while the students play along with me, but they are muted. I then put on the backing track to a piece we’re working on and we play through that together, again while they’re muted. We go into breakout rooms in zoom, and I ask each section to work on a particular set of measures with section leaders leading the sectional. I hop into each breakout room and help each group.

In terms of the video, I had students send me an audio take of them playing their part along to a backing track using headphones. I then imported and mixed their audio files together using Logic Pro X. I then had them send me a video take of them playing along to the backing track. I used Final Cut Pro to compile all the videos and added the mixed audio from Logic into the compilation. That was the process in a nutshell.

The Adaptability of Scientific Collaboration in times of Crisis

By Kim Chaloner, Dean of Community Life & Science Teacher

Neuroscientists and Education Researchers Join our Environmental Science Elective to Develop a Scientific Study of COVID-19

Before our distance learning adventure began this month, members of NYU’s Neuroscience team, including members of their Teaching and Learning research group, teamed up with our Environmental Science class to explore and develop the team’s new student-scientist collaboration platform, MINDHIVE. As they describe, “MINDHIVE is a web-based citizen science platform that supports real-world brain and behavior research. It is “designed for students & teachers who seek authentic STEM research experience, and for neuroscientists & cognitive/social psychologists who seek to address their research questions outside of the lab.” MINDHIVE  will eventually develop a large platform to pair students with neuroscientists who will develop research study proposals together. An earlier collaboration with my class and the same team, carried out in 2016 and 2017, was featured in a New York Times piece. We’ve continued the collaboration since then, and for this year, our original idea was to study young people and climate anxiety, developing a research project that looks at how students respond to information about the global crisis of climate disruption.   

The closing of both schools, as well as the unprecedented circumstances of responding to a global pandemic, may have thrown off many learning experiences, but this collaboration was custom built for this particular brand of scientific work. Students at Grace focus on collaboration, real-world learning, and cross-curricular exploration. In these circumstances, our program was ready to keep moving forward.  

Students began their online collaboration this week, studying how scientists balance the need for fast results with the need for solid and reliable data. Like in the climate crisis, the public is weighing the value of acting early and relying on scientific consensus with what seems like more immediate concerns like keeping the economy on track or waiting for completely unanimous conclusions. Our students, with depth and subtly, talked about the most recent studies neuroscientists and social scientists have published and carried out regarding responding to this pandemic, one fantastic example can be found here. They proposed their own study topics of study and discussed them with our team including Suzanne Dikker (pictured in our Zoom chat below). Students asked excellent behavioral research questions like, “If you have family members living overseas, do you worry if their countries aren’t doing enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus and do you see the risk differently?” and “If you are an introvert and normally don’t see people, has the fact that you are now prohibited from seeing anyone strengthened your desire to see people?”  Students talked about how teenagers are reacting to information and how they evaluate what to trust in the media.

As we continue to develop our research project with MINDHIVE, including the input of scientists working on the ground to understand the social nature of the crisis, we are grateful to have this collaboration in place, ready to enter the online learning world.

Scientists and Education Researchers Present on Our Call:

Dr. Suzanne Dikker (Amsterdam)

Veena Vasudevan 

Sushmita Sadhukha 

Rebecca Martin 

Kim Burgas 

Engin Bumbacher 

Ido Davidesco (in spirit!)

Third Grade Art Students Inspired by Harlem Renaissance

As a part of their discussion of the Harlem Renaissance, Mr. Robinson’s Third Grade art students were tasked with researching two art forms that were created and popularized during the intellectual, social, and artistic boom. Their research culminated in the creation of two separate original pieces of art inspired by their research. Mr. Robinson and the students have been holding critiques during Zoom Art classes.

In celebration of World Art Day, and of the students’ creativity, we thought we’d share a few of the students’ projects here. You can enjoy images of their projects below:

Mandarin Students Learn in New Environment: The Kitchen

Before Spring break, students in Ms. Chien’s Mandarin V class were busy discussing their favorite fast and comfort foods as a way of practicing the culinary-centric vocabulary they had been studying. Once Grace’s Distance Learning plan commenced on March 30, the conversations they were having, and the way Ms. Chien was teaching, suddenly shifted.

So far, distance teaching, in Ms. Chien’s case, has provided its own set of challenges; Ms. Chien noted that she often finds herself “hopping around the breakout rooms.” More importantly, teaching via Zoom has provided her with plenty of new teaching opportunities, such as introducing a new setting to her students: her kitchen.

In this new environment, Ms. Chien is not only able to teach them new vocabulary, but is able to use it in actual conversation, talking them through the preparation of some of her favorite noodle dishes. Of teaching from home, Ms. Chien said, “It’s actually a luxury to have all the props within a step. I can show them everything easily. They get to see the authentic materials. I think it’s a benefit of online learning.”

Using her cooking demonstrations as inspiration, students have been tasked to make cooking shows of their own. Each student will have to film a segment of them cooking the very comfort foods they discussed before Distance Learning began. And they will have to narrate it entirely in Mandarin. “I look forward to having them put their various language skills in one project: writing/ typing while writing their plots and scripts, speaking, reading, and listening while we did a rehearsal on Zoom.” Ms. Chien said.

She also noted that, while the project would center around the practice of a foreign language, it will, overall, be a holistic learning experience. “Students will integrate their skills in theater such as staging, public speaking, acting, and looking at camera, and in technology by editing the movie and making sure the subtitles match what they are saying.” Ms. Chien added, “The language component does not have to be 100% perfect, as long as it conveys the meaning and shows their passion of the language and the dishes they make.”