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!
Even though students were stuck at home, the First Grade spent the spring traveling across the globe, all without having to pack a bag. “The backbone of our First Grade Curriculum is the Seven Continents of the world.” said First Grade teacher, Ms. Tang. “Over the course of the school year, we journey around the world, specifically looking through the lens of children around the world — where they live, what they eat, how they go to school, how to live and play. This not only ties into our Social Studies curriculum — it is interdisciplinary.”
Throughout the school year, First Graders get a chance to explore the seven continents of the world, using the lenses of art, science, music, social students, language arts, and even physical education to inform the curriculum. “How people play” has also been an integral part of the First Grade syllabus, manifesting in Games Around the World, which highlights games such as Parcheesi from India, Yut Nori from Korea, Fox and Geese from Norway, and Mancala from Western Africa as a way to help students identify and appreciate cultural and societal differences. The unit and its complementary event have been beloved by students and families for about 20 years.
But when the school announced that it would be closing its doors for the remainder of the school year, First Grade teachers “knew [they] needed to adapt in some way.” The solution? Have the student become the teacher. “As part of our weekend homework, we asked First Graders to teach their families how to play the games we learned this year.” Ms. Tang explained. “Though we sent instructions for one or two games a week, we asked our First Graders to “be the teacher” and show their families how to play. This gave them a level of responsibility and ownership over their homework.”
The newly remixed curriculum also provided a platform for students to be even more creative than usual, with many students “creating their own game board and playing pieces…We had kids creating Mancala boards out of egg cartons, cups and other household containers!”
Despite the sudden changes teachers, students and families had to make, the heart of Games Around the World, and the entire First Grade curriculum, identifying and understanding our differences, remained intact. “In today’s world where we are struggling with similarities and differences and how they affect our everyday life, we want our students to identify with others who may live elsewhere, but have lives very similar to theirs.” started Ms. Tang. “We also wanted them to celebrate their differences. We want our students to become people who recognize, understand and appreciate similarities and differences. Teaching racial literacy is at the core of our curriculum, and the Games Around the World event is just a small manifestation of that. And in today’s climate, racial literacy is more important than ever.”
“Once upon a time three kids were in different places and they wanted to get together.” And so begins “The Long Haul to American Fun,” illustrated and dictated by Ms. Sarah Adler’s Early Childhood Language Group.
The Language Group, which met twice weekly throughout the year, was designed to support the reading and writing skills of Grace’s Kindergarten students. This year, at the students’ prompting, they wrote a book to culminate the class. Ms. Adler has led the group for years, but this year presented unique challenges (and even an unexpected advantage) with the shift to distance learning in the spring. Ms. Adler noted, “Initially it was difficult to conduct the class remotely, but the children soon adapted. They even enjoyed being able to see my screen as they dictated the story while I typed it. They delighted each time I made a typo and were able to correct me. In the end, this gave them a great sense of pride and accomplishment.”
“The Long Haul to American Fun” follows three children who, after an unexpected hiccup, find themselves stranded in the Californian desert. They have to quickly find shelter, all while avoiding some very prickly cacti. They manage to travel by wing glider to American Fun, a glorious theme park in Coney Island, replete with water slides, swimming pools and games. After a short excursion to Alaska to view the Northern Lights, where they befriend a fluffy dove and a furry dog, the children return to American Fun for more water park hilarity before finally traveling safely back to their homes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Film and Media Majors spent this year preparing to shoot their final film over spring break. After months of planning, and with spring break about to begin, Seniors Sasha Q., Otto L., Lucinda L. and Charlotte G. found their planned shoot and production completely shut down. Recognizing the less-than-favorable hand his students had been dealt, photography and film teacher Mr. Todd gave them the option of adapting their existing scripts or creating new films. Without exception, the students accepted the challenge of crafting entirely new films before graduation, even though they had already been working on their final projects for months.
As the students began writing their new scripts, Mr. Todd shifted the focus of his class to delve deeper into the study of the avant-garde films and the pioneers of alternative cinema. The curriculum clearly inspired his pupils, whose films, either by design or necessity (or, more likely, a bit of both), began moving in a more surrealist direction, exploring the streets of New York City; a lofty apartment; even a kitchen sink.
The uncharted territory lent itself to a somewhat surprising result. Said Mr. Todd, “While the students did not have the chance to experience building a production crew and filming with all the resources Grace has to offer, they were given the conceptual freedom to explore improvisation and a taste of auteurship on a level they probably wouldn’t have had prior to this crisis.”
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!
By Pam Vlach, Dance Specialist, Lower & Middle School; Director, Middle School Dance Ensemble
The past few weeks, the middle school dance ensemble has been working with Aphiwe Mpahleni, who’s zooming in from Cape Town, South Africa to share the history and technique of Gumboot. The first week of her residency, the students learned about the emergence of Gumboot in the gold mines of South Africa as a tool for communication and protest in poor working conditions. The racial inequities in South Africa as related to the origins of Gumboot were particularly poignant for students. The second week, the seventh and eighth graders practiced the technique of Gumboot and learned a combination that we’ll likely incorporate into the middle school dance concert next spring.
In planning this unit, Aphiwe and I met several times to discuss content and strategy for online teaching because it was important to address both the possibility of unreliable technology and specifics of pedagogy that are culturally informed. We wanted to create a process where the middle schoolers could learn successfully while experiencing the cultural intricacies of Gumboot in an authentic way. Although there are certainly challenges in teaching dance remotely, it’s also an excellent opportunity to think outside the box and make the world a little smaller for the kids.
Technologically, nothing is perfect. During one class, my speaker stopped working and I didn’t realize it. There were a few minutes of Aphiwe communicating with the kids and I couldn’t hear any of them (but thought the problem was on their end). When I realized what had happened, I was incredibly embarrassed and apologized, and the kids laughed, then we continued on with class. I share this because in teaching remotely, connecting with the students has sometimes meant showing some vulnerability in learning these new online tools and platforms. We’re all in it together, and we’re learning as we go.