Hands-on learning experiences are a big part of what makes the Episcopal experience so powerful. Recently, the oldest Lower School students showed off what they’ve been working on. The QUEST Center was filled with excitement!
Do What You Love!
That was the idea behind the fifth grade Maracuja or Passion Project. For months now students have been exploring their passions, and this week they shared what they have learned in the first-ever Episcopal Maracuja Showcase!
The showcase was a celebration of learning and exploring. The soon-to-be Middle Schoolers shared what they love about everything from architecture and art to event planning and wood carving. Student paintings, photography and published works were on display as well as a custom-built robot named Vernie.
In addition to doing what they love, these students learned something about themselves. Many of them said the most challenging part of the project was narrowing down their many interests and finding the one they wanted to explore most. In speaking with the students, their natural enthusiasm for their topics of choice was obvious. As they discussed the topics, they spoke with ease and pride. Once their Lower School counterparts began rotating through the showcase, the fifth graders were eager to share the experience.
Years from now it will be exciting to see whether today’s fifth graders have continued fine-tuning their current passions or whether they have followed a different interest.
Fourth Grade Arcade Scores Big!
The excitement and creativity of the annual fourth grade arcade returned this year. The tradition, which challenges students to build an arcade game out of recycled materials is a student and teacher favorite. The fourth grade Knights did not disappoint!
With just tape, cardboard and simple gears, students created games that people of all ages would be happy to play. There was a unique take on The Price is Right legend Plinko. Students also created everything from a foosball table to a claw crane game. As younger Lower School students visited the arcade, there was a feeling of a traditional arcade setting with games dispensing tickets and students excited to get the high score.
Th Lower School arcade was inspired by the story of a boy named Caine, who built his own arcade at the age of nine. Click here to read Caine’s story and how it inspired a global cardboard challenge.
The Episcopal greenhouse by the numbers:
Hydroponics: Gardening for the Future
The greenhouse has come alive with the excitement of Lower School gardeners. From the littlest Knights to next year’s Middle Schoolers, students are planting seeds and preparing for their future. “We’re teaching kids something that they can do their whole life,” says QUEST Center Coordinator Dr. Elizabeth Lewis. She says while not all students currently grow food at home, the practice has real application for the future when students may live in crowded cities or even on another planet.
Episcopal Chef Pat Mahon explains that the crop is grown entirely in water using a nutrient film technique system. Hydroponic gardening is a process of growing plants in water, adding only soluble fertilizer and maintaining a precise pH balance. The plants thrive in this environment and can be harvested year-round.
An Edible Education Starts with a Seed
The greenhouse, which was made possible by the Parents’ Guild several years ago, lets students get their hands dirty – or wet – while being introduced to the gardening process. The process is much more than simply planting a crop. The edible education begins with students learning more about how seeds grow. “Little kids are learning the life cycle,” says Dr. Lewis, who sees tremendous potential for hands-on learning and exploration in the greenhouse.
The learning doesn’t end when the plants hit the water. Teachers bring students back throughout the growing season to measure, chart, graph and even predict the size of their future crop. Dr. Lewis will introduce students to the concept of pollination and the importance of bees as students eventually try their hands at self-pollinating their little sprouts. In addition, the greenhouse teaches students about environmental stewardship. Hydroponic gardening reduces the overall carbon footprint when compared to that of commercially purchased food because the process doesn’t require gas-powered equipment or trucks to deliver it. Maintenance time and work hours are also significantly reduced.
Cultivating Healthy Choices
This is a gift that keeps on giving and growing,” says Chef Pat, who points out that at full production the greenhouse can sustain the lettuce needs of the entire Episcopal student body. He says it just makes sense to use fresh, local produce whenever it’s available and that it’s an added bonus that the greenhouse produce is herbicide and pesticide free. There is also the hope that if students grow healthy food they will be more likely to make healthy choices.
It’s exciting to see everything what is being cultivated one seed at a time!
What are you growing this spring? Tell us about your garden in the comments section below.
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:15
A recent Holy Week service project performed by PreK-3, PreK-4 and kindergarten students is proof that you’re never too little to be of service to others. During Lent, Lower School religion teacher Laura Portwood focused her class lessons on the acts of service performed by Jesus including washing the feet of the disciples. Once students had an understanding of the importance of helping others, Portwood advised the little Knights that they had homework. She says the word homework caused a stir among the students because they had never had homework before. As their eyes grew wide and they enthusiastically discussed what the assignment might be, Portwood gave each student a little bag with a hand towel inside and asked them to go home and see how they could be helpful. It was a simple, open-ended task with tremendous learning potential.
“All the kids were happy to do it,” says Portwood. She says as the students discussed ways to be helpful the ideas started building upon each other until everyone was eager to do their part. Portwood says it was rewarding to see their enthusiasm for what they could do, and the assignment tapped into this age group’s natural desire to be helpful. “They think about others,” she says with a smile. The final step in the assignment was for family members to submit photos of the student service. Portwood was delighted with the work that was accomplished.
A lesson in service is an important part of the Episcopal experience. Portwood says that students must develop the service “muscle” early on or it won’t work as an adult. She hopes the recent Holy Week service project not only encourages the young students to be helpful but also helps them begin to develop compassion and empathy for others. “Hopefully it will grow on its own even as it’s fostered by school,” says Portwood. “It’s something that they could really do and experience the joy of serving somebody else and feel the excitement of being appreciated.”
From washing windows and counters to helping family members and pets, these young Knights are well on their way to being difference-makers in their communities, and we appreciate them. Congratulate these students in the comments section below.
Lower School was hopping with Easter excitement as students celebrated the upcoming holiday. Students enjoyed egg hunts, class parties and the Kindergarten/Senior Buddy celebration. These photos are sure to make you smile. Happy Easter, Knights! Enjoy your spring break!
Kindergarten/Senior Buddy Egg Hunt
Dressed for Spring
Egg Hunt Time!
Take a peek into the Lower School classrooms and you’ll see authors hard at work. In PreK-3, a voice rings out with joy. “It’s about Brazil and I have monkeys and banaynays!” Another student shares his story, “Lava is hot and the dinosaur is getting wiped out!” This excitement for writing is nurtured from the very beginning of a child’s school experience at Episcopal.
Everyone is an Author
In PreK-3 and PreK-4, writing time is referred to as “Bookmaking,” and teaching is centered around practices from experts in Early Childhood literacy. At this age, children aren’t typically ready to “write,” but they have lots of stories to tell through pictures and spoken words. As their phonemic awareness begins to grow, scribbles and symbols evolve into written letters and sounds. Teachers model how to make a book through short mini lessons and students are sent off to create their stories, while teachers circulate the room to guide the children through their work.
In kindergarten, students are ready to begin Writing Workshop. Writing Workshop is a student-centered framework for teaching writing that is based on the idea that students learn to write best when they write frequently, for extended periods of time, on topics of their own choosing. For our younger students, the emphasis is on the process of writing. Each lesson begins with a short mini lesson and then the teacher sends students off to their desks to write. Teachers provide support through small-group work and conferring, with multiple opportunities for personalizing instruction to teach writing skills specifically and purposefully.
Writing Workshop progresses through fifth grade. Students engage in several units of study throughout the school year, variations of narrative writing, informational writing, and opinion writing. Closely following the Units of Study for Writing Workshop, students develop their writing skills not only in content but also in organization, craft, grammar, spelling, and conventions. Students also become comfortable with the writing process: draft, revise, edit, and publish. At the end of each writing unit, students celebrate their publications in unique and special ways.
Authors Write for a Purpose
Students learn that when an author writes a text, he or she has a purpose for writing. Sometimes, the purpose is to simply entertain or tell a story. Other times, the purpose is to inform the reader of something. Often, the author is attempting to make an argument or share an opinion, in hopes of persuading the reader to his or her point of view regarding a topic.
In their most recent Unit of Study, first graders have been learning about the genre of persuasive writing by writing reviews. The Lower School hallway filled up with their reviews of restaurants, video games, chapter book series and even a review about Episcopal. These reviews caught the attention of fourth grade teacher, Rosalyn Won, who noticed one review, in particular, written by Mason Pizzolato about his favorite restaurant, Bistro Byronz. He encouraged people to go visit the restaurant because, “ What’s on the menu is so good. They have fettuccine, cheese fries, and chips with cheese.” Bistro Byronz is one of Mrs. Won’s favorite restaurants, too, and she knows the owner of the restaurant, Emelie Alton. Mrs. Won took a picture of Mason’s writing to show her friend the great review he had written. Mrs. Emelie was so impressed by Mason’s writing that she reached out to Mrs. Won to deliver a gift card to Mason. Mrs. Won, Mason and Lower School Division Head, Beth Gardner, spoke with Mrs. Emelie via FaceTime. She enjoyed hearing about Mason’s experience at Bistro Byronz and offered him the VIP treatment next time he visits the restaurant.
Other students were called out for their excellent work as well. Rosalie Gautreaux was recognized by La Carreta for her shining review of their restaurant. She touted the restaurant calling it, “the best because they have a big variety of food that you can get.” She also promoted that, “When it’s your birthday, they sing to you.” A copy of her review was posted on the restaurant’s social media page, as well as in the restaurant, and she was also awarded a gift card.
Third graders wrote persuasive letters to the Lower School Division Head, Beth Gardner. Requests ranged from a later start time for the school day to permission to play two touch football at recess. While requests are not always able to be granted, in past years, students have successfully declared Wednesdays a “No Homework Day” for the Lower School, a tradition that has continued to this day.
Authors Write What They Know
As writers mature, they begin to develop stories with a more personal connection. Fifth graders in Mrs. Engstrom’s English class wrote memoirs last fall. Students described how the process helped them grow as writers, as they used their personal experiences to connect with others who might be experiencing similar feelings or struggles.
One student wrote about his struggle with the regret he felt after quitting the basketball team mid-season. “I thought I wasn't good at basketball. I had this feeling of doubt and hopelessness and I thought of losing [a game] for my team when it never even happened. That thought haunted me like a monster does under your bed. So I quit the team and thought of my own self. I didn't know it then but it was a big mistake.”
Another student described his journey as he pondered about what his future career might be. “One day me and my friends were riding around the neighborhood and we stopped and put our bikes down. Then one of my friends took out his phone and told me to follow him. We spent most of the day going around taking pictures of the sunset and lake in our neighborhood. Every picture I took made me feel happy and I felt like I really just wanted to take pictures my entire life, like a photographer. But the next day when me and my friends went around taking pictures it didn't feel the same as before. It wasn't making me as happy as the day before. I finally realized that photography was more of a hobby than career.”
Another fifth grader used her memoir as a platform to share some feelings that she had not been able to express before. “Embarrassment isn't that cloak you put on to hide in, it's that bright colored jacket you wear when you're embarrassed, that jacket that people see when they judge you. That jacket isn’t the reason you wanna cry, it’s the people laughing that make you want to cry. The people pointing, staring, and whispering about what you did. But as long as you're being yourself it doesn't matter what they think. 999.999% of the time they’re wrong anyways. So just be yourself.”
By creating a safe classroom environment, Mrs. Engstrom set the stage for students to be able to write with vulnerability, pushing them to grow on their journey as writers.
Authors Publish their Work
Through their study of writers and books, PreK-3 students participated in different book studies from several authors like Eric Carle and James Dean, the author of the “Pete the Cat” series. They learned that books have pictures and words, that authors use every page in the book and how authors and illustrators work together to tell the whole story. Students were excited to learn that Elizabeth Kline, one of Episcopal’s own, published a children’s book during her tenure at Woman’s Hospital. Mrs. Kline visited the class to share her story, “The Very Best Birth Day,” and describe the process of writing and publishing her book. The young authors got to see how the story evolved from the proof pages to the hardcover book and were excited to ask Mrs. Kline many questions about being an author.
Growing young authors is a process. The foundation begins in a child’s earliest experiences in school and continues to build each year as students acquire the building blocks to be seasoned writers. All children have stories to share and giving them frequent opportunities to write stories of their choosing gives writers the confidence to share their stories with an audience, feeling successful and proud.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. She taught in Texas public schools and at a bilingual school in Gracias, Honduras before returning to teach PreK-4 at her alma mater in 2012. After 14 years in the classroom, she is excited to serve our youngest Knights in a new role as the Director of Early Childhood Programs. Julie resides in Madisonville with her husband, Scott, and bonus son, Owen.
Episcopal second graders are participating in an out-of-this-world project-based learning unit on space. The QUEST Center in Foster Hall recently served as Space Camp Headquarters for these adventurous astronaut candidates. Students spent five days at headquarters where they participated in group activities and hands-on learning experiences.
Telling Stories through the Stars
Learning the Scientific Method with Seeds
In Kitchen Chemistry, second graders learned how astronauts grow food in space using hydroponics. Students started by planting vegetable seeds in tiny cubes. Now, as the seeds sprout, students are monitoring and tracking their growth. Dr. Lewis introduced the hydroponic concept with the help of an old yoga mat and a container of water. Once the seedlings are repotted into little baskets, they are placed inside holes cut in the yoga mat. The yoga mat floats on the surface of the water, and the baskets with plants are partially submerged in water. The design provides an easy way to create a hydroponic system using recycled materials.
Throughout the growing process, scientific discussions and discoveries occur. For example, students are cultivating the same type of carrot in three different types of water to determine which water (regular water, sugar water or salt water) is most conducive to growing food. Later on, students will plant a seed in water and an identical seed in soil to determine which medium works best. “They are learning the scientific method and designing their own experiments,” says Dr. Lewis.
Developing Critical Thinking Skills One Turn of a Screw at a Time
In the vastness of space, you can’t call a repairman when something breaks. With that in mind, students were challenged to take apart a variety of electronics. “The kids loved it,” says Dr. Lewis. “Usually, parents don’t let kids take things apart so this was a real treat.” As students disassembled the devices, they also developed life skills such as how to use a screwdriver. Once the machines were broken into tiny pieces, Dr. Lewis says numerous students truly enjoyed the challenge of trying to put them back together. “It’s like a puzzle,” she says. “They could have done that all day.” With each turn of the screwdriver, students were developing problem-solving, critical thinking and motor skills, which are certainly important for visitors to outer space.
The project-based unit is far from complete. The future astronauts are now participating in agility, strength and balance training during physical education. In the classroom, students are writing about their experiences and keeping a Space Camp Journal. Eventually, the second graders will research a celestial body and share what they’ve learned with their classmates. In addition, they will return to the QUEST Center to program robots and participate in a Mars landing engineering challenge. It’s a great time to be a second grader!
All good scientists start with observations and a plan. With that in mind, Lower School students recently spent time in the greenhouse generating ideas to bring the space to life. It will be exciting to see their dreams bear fruit – or vegetables!
Middle School Take on Valentine’s Day
Happy Valentine's Day from Ms. Day's 6th grade World History class! Students were tasked with making Valentine's cards related to topics they had learned earlier in the year, including the early hunter gatherers and ancient Egypt. Your “mummy” will always love you!
Episcopal Third Grader Participates in National Book Club
Third grader Milo Gutfreund is a Kids Book Reviewer Club member. Author/illustrator Grace Lin hosted a contest this spring inviting students to participate in a national book review club, and Milo was chosen out of hundreds of applicants! He’s already contributed two reviews sharing his thoughts on what he has read. You can hear Milo's review by clicking here or check out the transcript here. Congratulations, Milo!
The photos below show Milo on his book club adventure including a box of books he received for his participation. In addition, Milo’s mom and Episcopal teacher Ros Won is pictured with author Grace Lin in 2012. The two posed for a photo at a book signing in Los Angeles holding a picture of Milo.
I Love with “Alma Heart!”
Second graders learned about the work of Black American artist, Alma Thomas, who was the first Black woman to have her own art exhibit. Inspired by her work, they created art to decorate the classroom.
Enchanted Engineering in the QUEST Center in Foster Hall
Once upon a time, first graders had more room to explore in the QUEST Center in Foster Hall. The additional space made it possible for the annual first grade Enchanted Engineering project-based learning unit to expand. Students built a magical fairy tale land and learned to program Bee-Bots to traverse the obstacles. What a great way to make learning fun!
Snaps for Seventh Grade Poets
Mrs. Valentine's 7th grade English students held a poetry slam competition in the QUEST Center to wrap up their poetry unit. Students recited their original poems in front of their peers and a few special judges. Snaps for these brave performers!
Eighth grade students participated in a Step-Up afternoon, where they learned about all of the opportunities the Episcopal Upper School offers its students! They heard from student panels on academics, athletics, arts, college counseling, and club offerings, and were able to ask questions about life in the Upper School.
Happy Mardi Gras, Knights!
Lower School students enjoyed Mardi Gras fun this week before the holiday break.
Fourth graders recently went on a blind date…with a book. The Blind Date with a Book event officially launched the new fourth grade book club. Teacher Liz Crawford wrapped each potential book and wrote short hints about what was inside on the cover. Similar to speed dating, students rotated around four tables in the QUEST Center in Foster Hall, reading the hints to determine which book they wanted to read with their group. After the groups tallied their top choices, students submitted them to Crawford and enjoyed the sweet treats she had provided to make the occasion truly special.
Why would a teacher go to such lengths to allow students to choose a book? Oftentimes, teachers assign students a book and everyone simply begins reading. Crawford says the goal of establishing a book club is to help students connect to reading. Setting up an event to begin creates a level of excitement among the class. “The craziest thing is that it worked,” says Crawford with enthusiasm. Students were thrilled to participate in the book selection process and even more excited when Crawford unveiled their choices. The excitement was so high that students discussed it with their families who were also eager to see which book their child would receive. Crawford is ecstatic that parents are engaged and that students and families are having conversations about reading.
“We learn all the time as teachers that choice and ownership are the secret sauce to teaching,” says fifth grade teacher Nicole Engstrom. “Book clubs start with choice, students feel the ownership which leads to engagement and excitement. That’s why I love book clubs, there is always a buzz in the room!!” That buzz is created because students enjoy leading the discussions, developing the guidelines for those discussions and even determining how many pages they will read each week. While the focus of the book clubs is reading, third grade teachers Amy Arceneaux and Shannon Pesson point out that students are also developing other life skills. Through the experience, students learn to work together, to take turns and how to disagree respectfully with each other. These skills and the benefits of reading are so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that “recommends that pediatric providers advise parents of young children that reading aloud and talking about pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development and parent-child relationships.”
As far as the students are concerned, they simply enjoy the experience. Step into Engstrom’s classroom during book club and you immediately feel the excitement as students discuss what they’ve read with each other. Groups are gathered with books like “Theodore Boone: The Accused” by John Grisham and “A Medal for Leroy” by Michael Morpurgo in hand. There is quiet but enthusiastic chatter as they share what they’ve found in the pages. In fourth grade, Crawford says her students quickly embraced the idea of a book club. Students have asked if they can jot down notes as they are reading to prepare for the next group discussion, and they are eager for each upcoming meeting. She says giving students control over little things like book choice, discussion guidelines and goals results in them paying more attention to the skill of reading without even realizing it. “It’s more about the desire and the depth they’re willing to do it because of the desire,” she says.
Crawford and Arceneaux participated in a virtual professional development opportunity through the Teachers College, Columbia University to prepare for the book clubs. The opportunity was supported by Episcopal’s annual eFund. Arceneaux says the workshop emphasized the importance of books as a connector to a story’s characters, each other and even the world. She says the third grade book clubs look a little different from the fourth and fifth grade clubs because the younger students still frequently read aloud. In addition, teachers have to model for the eight and nine year olds how to talk about books and what they have learned.
“The Nuts and Bolts of Getting Book Clubs Up and Going” helped teachers discover new components to implement in establishing student book clubs. Students developed a constitution of rules that book club members follow. To generate excitement and spark creativity, the students also worked together to create a book club logo. Third graders chose names like The Book Hawks, The Olympic Readers and the Dirt Worms Readers.
The establishment of Lower School book clubs is a perfect example of the creativity and care with which Episcopal educators plan and lead lessons. At Episcopal, reading has always been a priority with a range of events like Battle of the Books, Project LIT and community reads. Ultimately, the hope is that students not only develop strong reading skills but also become lifelong readers. With such a commitment to the effort, we’re sure that students will be turning pages for years to come.
Have you read a great book recently? Share the title with us in the comments section below.
Santa stopped in for the annual second grade Polar Express Day! With hot chocolate, holiday pajamas and big smiles all around, this Lower School tradition is a special way to get everyone in the holiday spirit.
Episcopal math lessons include everything from the latest technology to tried-and-true instruments that humans have relied upon for ages. Recently, the QUEST Center in Foster Hall has been buzzing with the sounds of students crunching numbers in some very creative ways.
A sixth grade lesson on ratios and speed went well beyond calculators and textbooks. To start, students learned a lesson from the track and field playbook and ran laps around the field house track to study speed. For the culminating activity, teacher Nancy Calloway brought students to the QUEST Center’s Digital Media Lab where they used Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots to determine average speed and distance traveled. In small groups, students worked together to make observations and calculations. Calloway says the integration of technology provided the opportunity for collaboration with experienced students taking on the role of experts. “It has been a joy to see these students step up to the challenge and help others along the way,” she says.
Marking Time with Equations
As sixth graders explored speed, just across the QUEST Center eighth graders were creating equations to display the time on a clock. “During the last two or three weeks of this semester, I wanted to work on strengthening some important skills that my students would need for their Upper School classes,” says eighth grade math teacher James Moroney. “One of those skills is solving equations.” However, Moroney didn’t want to simply have students solve problems in the classroom, so he devised a creative, new way to make the lesson more engaging. For the assignment, students had to write an equation that when solved represents the number on a clock. After solving the equation, students then had to design the clock face and construct the clock with gears and hands. The clocks will later be gifted to the Episcopal teacher of their choice.
We Love Fractions
In Kitchen Chemistry, fourth graders baked cookies inspired by the book “The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street” by Karina Yan Glaser. The recipe required the students to use their new knowledge of fractions as they measured out brown sugar and flour. Students also learned how to sift flour and mix dough. When discussing the project and the ½ teaspoons of this and 3 tablespoons of that, the students were confident with fractions. Once the cookies were baked, students rotated to the QUEST Center Great Hall where they used Lego bricks to build a replica of the Vanderbeeker home. It was the perfect combination for a reading and arithmetic lesson.
QUEST Center Space Adds Up
“When problem solving, it is important for students to be able to experiment and test their results,” says Calloway. “Having a space where they can actually see and do the experiment and test the results in real time allows students to make conjectures, verify or refute the results and ultimately improve their ability to ‘apply’ mathematics to the real world.” With 14,000 square feet of learning space, the QUEST Center provides ample space for mathematical exploration. Calloway began using the robots last year, but she says this year the added space in the QUEST Center made a significant difference. “The QUEST Center allows for open spaces where the students are able to spread out (social distance) while still working with a partner or group to complete a hands-on task,” she says.
Moroney says the QUEST Center provides an opportunity for students to explore real world applications of math concepts such as ratios, distance and time. “One of the most important things that the QUEST Center offers to our students, especially in math, is the ability to do trial and error in problem solving,” he says. “The space that the QUEST Center provides as well as the different tools and technology in which the students are exposed allows them to experiment with mathematical (and scientific concepts) in a way that allows them to make mistakes and correct them in an incredibly engaging way.” Moroney plans to continue finding opportunities to use the space this school year. Liz Crawford, whose fourth grade class baked cookies and built houses all in one class period, appreciates the ease of conducting lessons in the facility. “The space makes it so doable,” she says in between measuring and mixing. The fourth grade lesson was appreciated by QUEST Center Coordinator Dr. Elizabeth Lewis. “This week, passing by the Chemistry Kitchen, one could hear fourth graders figuring out the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, the importance of sifting flour, and how to read and to double a recipe,” she says. “Baking chocolate cookies from scratch is a delicious way to practice math skills.”
The learning and excitement that fills the QUEST Center each day is inspiring for Dr. Lewis. “My heart is full when I see students moving around our new spaces, trying different solutions to problems, tweaking their solutions when they aren’t quite right, and then testing out the revised plans until they work just right,” she says. In just a short time, Dr. Lewis and the QUEST Center have already provided a range of new learning opportunities for Lower and Middle School students. We can’t wait to see what they do during the rest of the school year!