Fourteen years ago when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the current eighth graders were just infants, with no understanding of the chaos and destruction taking place around them. In 2016, these same students endured the Baton Rouge flood and now have a more personal understanding of what a natural disaster can do. This semester, the students delved deeper into the topic as they asked themselves the question - What are resident’s energy needs after a natural disaster?
The eighth grade teachers, including Shyamala Alapati, Rebecca Milligan, James Moroney and Kristina St. George, teamed up with Librarian Tiffany Whitehead and Academic Technology Coordinator Betsy Minton for this cross-curricular, project-based lesson. In addition to exploring the topic of energy needs, the team also incorporated the theme of this year’s Quest for Peace Program – Finding a Place in a Displaced World. The teachers found creative ways in which to incorporate the theme into a variety of lessons. In geography class, as students studied the countries of the world they learned about the energy challenges and needs of that country’s citizens. In science class, students learned about the different types of energy and how they are created. The theme of energy was even studied in English, where teacher Rebecca Milligan introduced literature written about hurricanes Harvey, Katrina and Maria. Milligan says the text focused on the challenges and emotions that coincide with displacement in the midst of these natural disasters. While you might think it’s a challenge to teach students about energy in English class, Milligan says it’s rewarding to find text that is relevant and applicable to current events, while still teaching students the required academic components.
The eighth grade team invited guest speakers with personal and powerful connections to natural disasters to speak with students. Middle School Spanish teacher Giselle Clouatre, who is originally from Puerto Rico, spoke with students about the challenges her own family faced after Hurricane Maria. Her story was real and relatable for the students who are growing up in a state often impacted by hurricanes. “I think seeing a teacher we see almost every day talking about such a horrible experience changed my view on disasters and the lives of the people that experience them,” said Sacha Dernoncourt. “Ms. Clouatre told us about things that happened in her real life, which I think is a lot more helpful when we’re learning because it’s easier to understand and actually comprehend what someone has gone through when you actually know them,” said Haley Wright.
Episcopal graduate and Cajun Army founder, Chris King ’88 discussed the challenges of responding to a natural disaster. He related stories of 11 hour boat rescues and volunteers working tirelessly to organize thousands of meals for displaced residents in the aftermath of the 2016 flood. He challenged students to be the next group of innovators to think of solutions to help citizens fare better in the next natural disaster. What are you going to create? How can you help?
Bringing the Lesson to Life
Students recently had the opportunity to connect everything they’ve learned. While sixth and seventh grade students were testing, eighth grade students were fully immersed in the concepts they had spent so long studying. Students explored multiple ways to create energy. They used potatoes, wind, water and a hand crank to light a tiny LED bulb. Outside of the library, students tried a variety of methods for lighting fire, including magnifying glasses, flint and friction. With each method students saw results, ranging from a wisp of smoke to tiny flames. The reward for their efforts was roasting s’mores over a fire pit. Inside the library, students were tasked with solving a series of disaster-related puzzles to unlock an escape box to gain access to the prize within. As a reminder of the impact a natural disaster can have and to truly reinforce the day’s theme, students watched the documentary Hurricane on the Bayou in St. George’s classroom. All of the activities were engaging and entertaining for students. Milligan says the hope is that the experience helps students make a connection between the impacts a natural disaster can have, such as loss of energy, and how citizens can be displaced as a result.
This is Project-Based Learning in Middle School.
Most of the Episcopal community is familiar with a project-based learning unit. Students explore all aspects of a topic, they make connections about the topic, investigate and research it and eventually share what they have learned. The projects are cross-curricular and include everything from guest speakers and field trips, to hands-on activities designed to generate excitement and enthusiasm for the topic. This year, Middle School teachers worked toward the goal of organizing such a project and the eighth grade energy and displacement project was a success. “I am so impressed with our 8th grade teachers’ work together to support their students with project work focused on energy,” says Middle School Division Head Lucy Smith. “Our students have had a great opportunity to increase their awareness of and empathy for the energy challenges that arise when natural disasters occur. We hope their work on the project will motivate their ideas and leadership for problem-solving in the future.”
Students were, in fact, inspired to take action as a result of the lesson. After learning more about the challenges of natural disasters, they elected to create natural disaster kits in preparation for future events. St. George says students took on leadership roles, with a disaster kit lead designated in each homeroom. She says the student leaders encouraged their peers to donate items on the disaster kit list and an eighth grader even designed the flyer used to promote the effort. With student donations and the $256 generated from eighth grade field day concession sales, 11 complete disaster kits were created. St. George says the kits will be given to Catholic Charities for deployment during the next disaster.
While the eighth grade field day activity was certainly fun and engaging for students, the lesson had a larger purpose and impact. The teaching team is hopeful that the students make a connection between their classroom lessons and the real life applications – after all, isn’t that what learning is all about?
Episcopal first graders just completed a mini-triathlon. This is quite an accomplishment for six and seven year olds! Students swam a lap in the pool, pedaled a distance on their bike and finished up with a run. The annual Healthy Selves Triathlon is the culmination of a larger, project-based unit on what it means to be healthy.
Similar to triathletes, students learned about proper nutrition. The Healthy Selves unit introduced them to the concepts of making healthy food choices, creating healthy snacks and smoothies and even growing their own lettuce. To make the experience even more fun, students used brightly colored bracelets to track and celebrate their healthy food choices.
Students also learned more about what it means to be fit. These tiny triathletes learned more about exercise safety and helpful stretches for strengthening muscles. In addition, they learned how to care for their body with a range of tips including how to prevent the spread of germs, how to properly care for their skin and how to care for a bleeding nose.
The entire Healthy Selves unit is possible because of the support and strength of the Episcopal community. A range of faculty, staff, coaches and parents donated their time and expertise to make the project a meaningful experience for students. On triathlon day, that support was truly felt as students from throughout the Lower School lined the fence, the path and the sidewalks to cheer on their classmates and encourage them to complete the course.
Reaching the finish line of the Healthy Selves Triathlon was truly a team victory for all of Episcopal!
Lower School students are studying everything from weather to the human body. Now that the school year is underway, students are fully immersed in memorable and engaging project-based learning units.
Hurricanes. Rain. Snow.
At only eight or nine years old, Episcopal third graders already have a range of experiences with weather. For Phase I of the third grade weather study, students wrote about their experiences and shared their stories with classmates. Teachers Amy Arceneaux, Lauren Bilskie and Shannon Pesson say the weather unit is always exciting to teach because students are naturally fascinated by all things weather. The project-based unit certainly has a range of topics and projects to spark their interests. Unit highlights include the following hands-on student activities:
In addition to these learning opportunities, students traveled to the Louisiana Art and Science Museum where they played Who Wants to be a Meteorologist? While there, they also sang the water cycle song and dressed up in weather-related costumes. Back at Episcopal, students had an opportunity to learn more about the weather from local expert Dr. Josh Eachus from WBRZ. Students asked about everything from the safety of being in a car during a thunderstorm to how strong the winds were in hurricane Katrina. To learn more about the impact of hurricane Katrina, students watched the documentary Hurricane on the Bayou, which tells the story of what Louisiana residents experienced as the system roared ashore in 2005.
While students are naturally fascinated by weather, the third grade teachers say the topic can also be scary for them. “We want students to be prepared for severe weather, but not scared,” says Pesson. Part of that focus on prep includes a discussion on the importance of first responders and even those who respond after a disaster, such as the Cajun Army and Cajun Navy.
The third grade weather study is a comprehensive look at weather from the water cycle to cloud formations. After the unit is complete, Arceneaux, Bilskie and Pesson hope students have gained the following weather knowledge:
Bilskie says in addition to the lesson objectives, students are also gaining library, research, computer and presentation skills as they work through the unit. Arceneaux points out that there is a connection and continuity with project-based learning as each lesson builds upon previous experiences over the course of the year. For example, third graders will next study the state of Louisiana. The unit will include a discussion of the state’s ecosystem and the impact previous weather events have had on the land.
Third grade students will showcase their weather knowledge with their final project – researching and producing their own weather forecast. Look for more on that as the school year progresses.
Follow Episcopal on social media to learn more about other project-based learning units.
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Third Grade Variety Show Helps Make a Difference in the World
Episcopal third graders recently used their talents and skills to make a difference in the world. After a project-based learning unit on entrepreneurship, the students organized the second annual “So, You Think You’ve Got Talent?” variety show. All proceeds from the sale of show souvenirs were used to support the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund. Students generated more than $500 to support a variety of livestock and emergency supplies for a village on the other side of the globe. Third grade teacher Amy Arceneaux says it was great to see the students learn that they can make a difference in the world, even at a young age.
“This unit has put an impact on me because now I want to start a business of my own. Also it felt really good to know that we were able to help. We were able to let people know about our cause and then got them to help us.” Sophie
“I learned that it takes a team to make a show.” Tiffany
Such a successful project leaned on the support of the entire Episcopal community. Guest speakers were brought in to share their knowledge on topics such as creating an effective business plan, marketing a product or company and managing a budget. A special thanks to all of this year’s experts: Craig Gehring, founder of ACT Mastery Prep; Mollie Hill and Glynes Hyde, owners of Red Beans and Alex Kathleen; marketing consultant Juan Simoneaux; Bailey Wax and her friends at Fagan Films; Leah Duval, owner of Salsbury Dodge City; Kellie Bruce, Sarah Foret and Katie Ebey from the Episcopal Business Office and Joey Roth, creator of Jars for Change. In addition, teachers from across the Episcopal campus also helped make the project a meaningful experience for students by helping with performances and sharing expertise.
Students clearly took what they learned to heart. They starred in a promotional video, created an event program, served as announcers and worked behind-the-scenes to keep everything running smoothly. They also wrote the scripts, organized the event and then performed in front of the entire Lower School in the VPAC theater. On performance day, these eight and nine year olds were brave, confident and even witty. Students played violin, piano, danced and showcased their art. One student even wrote and sang an original song. The acts elicited clapping, tapping and a few tears from proud families and friends.
The show ended on a powerful note. All 40 third graders took to the stage to sing the timeless classic “Lean On Me”. It was an appropriate ending for a project that exemplified such support and community, both locally and globally.
After the event ended there was no doubt that yes, Episcopal third graders do have talent!
Littlest Knights Celebrate Nursery Rhymes With Olympic Flair
Enthusiast shouts of “hi mom” and “hi dad” could be heard from the PreK-4 Nursery Rhyme Olympics medal ceremony this week. Students proudly held their homemade Olympic torches aloft as the National Anthem rang out across the Episcopal softball field. Not unlike their grown up Olympic counterparts, the four year olds were eager to wave and speak with their number one fans, who were proudly waiting in the bleachers.
Before competing in the athletic portion of the Nursery Rhyme Olympics, students recited lines from their favorite nursery rhyme. The little Olympians were dressed as everything from Humpty Dumpty and Jack Be Nimble to Twinkle Little Star and the Itsy Bitsy Spider. They remembered their rhymes and delivered them well on the Greer Center stage.
Out on the softball field the students tackled obstacles including the Mother Goose Waddle, the Jack and Jill Bucket Toss and the Jack Be Nimble Jump. The students truly brought their nursery rhymes to life and had a great time learning.
The Olympics never looked so cute!
You’ve heard the phrase, you’ve seen the photos, and your child may have even presented what they’ve learned to you. But what exactly does “project-based learning” mean?
According to the Duke School, “projects are in-depth investigations that challenge students to apply skills, knowledge, and strategies from different content areas as they do authentic research, analyze data, think deeply about problems and draw conclusions”.
Project-based learning is rooted in educational standards. Teachers design each project after thoroughly reviewing the grade-level standards to ensure that all topics within a standard are covered. Because projects are in line with educational standards, they naturally progress, building upon the previous year’s experiences. Here at Episcopal, students begin this type of learning as early as PreK-3 and PreK-4.
“Learning of this kind provides our students with the tools necessary to make the world a better place,” says Lower School Division Head Bridget Henderson. Henderson says project-based learning units all begin with the end in mind.
Units are divided into three phases, which include:
Henderson says in phase one students make a connection to the topic by discussing and writing about what they know and wonder about regarding that topic.
The hallmarks of Phase II are investigation and research. Here, students are exposed to concepts such as data collection and analysis, problem solving, and drawing and testing conclusions as they explore the topic in greater detail to become “experts”. In this phase, students often go on field trips or learn from guest speakers. They also participate in the hands-on activities that generate excitement and enthusiasm for learning.
“This is where the projects come to life,” says Henderson. She says students, who are now the experts, share their knowledge in some way. This can take the form of a presentation for family and friends or puppet shows for classmates.
First grade teacher Heather Harpole has been using project-based learning to teach since the approach was introduced at Episcopal in 2012. Harpole and her fellow educators trained at the Duke School to learn more about the process. She says she has seen that the learning-by-doing philosophy results in actively engaged students, who process and retain the information because they take ownership of the project.
Harpole and Henderson say Lower School staff are particularly fond of the project-based learning approach because it is student-centered and student-led. Harpole says that means that while the project topics may be the same each year, they feel completely different because of the changing student interests. A great example of this is the first grade “Healthy Selves” project. Harpole says her class was very focused on exercise, while another first grade class enjoyed learning more about healthy snacks. Being able to accommodate student interests, while meeting the educational standards, ultimately makes the units more interesting for both students and teachers.
Project-based learning also allows for a collective “buy-in” for student learning. Depending on the unit, parents and other faculty may be called upon to share their expertise. For example, parents who are also doctors or dentists served as experts for the “Healthy Selves” unit. Members of the physical education department also shared their knowledge on everything from weight-lifting safety and caring for a bleeding nose to hiking techniques and kayaking tips.
Both Harpole and Henderson say they’ve seen positive results from the project-based learning experience. Harpole says not only are the learning standards met, but the students are also excited about what they’ve learned. In fact, Harpole says it’s fairly common for parents to report back to her that students are sharing their newfound knowledge with the family. For example, students may advise parents not to drink too much coffee because of the risk of staining their teeth or they may ask for each food group to be represented at every meal.
Project-based learning has proven to be a useful and meaningful method for ensuring that students learn and grow in the type of joyful and educational environment provided in Lower School. To learn more and see photos of students engaged in project-based learning click here.
Only in Louisiana!
The Christmas trees are adorned with Tabasco, black bear and Blue Dog ornaments.
Eight year olds know that 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 is the Cajun waltz.
Frog legs, boudin balls and crawfish pie are on the menu.
Episcopal third graders recently studied and celebrated everything that is uniquely Louisiana. The project-based learning activity included trips to the Rural Life Museum, the Old State Capitol and the Knock Knock Children’s Museum. A range of cultural experts also shared their expertise on everything from Cajun dancing and cultivating Louisiana produce to jazz, blues and art.
Ultimately, students gained a wealth of knowledge about the state that we call home, from the river that runs through the red stick to the meaning behind Mardi Gras colors. They shared that knowledge with parents and visitors during the Louisiana Expo Day this week. The audience enjoyed a performance by the students followed by a dance lesson at the Cajun Dance Hall (Mrs. Bilskie’s room), snacks at the Cajun Café (Mrs. Pesson’s room) and Art on the Bayou (Mrs. Arceneaux’s room) where they learned to draw Blue Dog.
In a fashion that’s truly representative of the Bayou State, students were proud and eager to welcome visitors to their space. They were enthusiastic in serving food and even comfortable dancing. With all that Louisiana has to offer, the spirit and sense of family and community among its people are perhaps the true takeaway. #strongeruKnighted
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.
-From This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
The fourth graders recently shared their research connected with our first project-based learning unit on United States landforms and the National Parks. Research topics ranged from the Redwood Forest to the Great Smoky Mountains, Alcatraz to Ford’s Theatre, hiking to white water rafting, geysers to volcanoes, and Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir.
Students learned more about their topic by conducting research online. They presented their information on a tri-fold board or in Google Slides. Some groups extended their learning by creating activity books, building clay or Lego models, or conducting science demonstrations. These presentations were the culmination of an extensive, integrated project-based learning unit.
In science class, fourth graders learned about landforms and erosion. They also learned about specific landforms in the United States and how many of them are protected by the National Park Service. Students also used Virtual Reality viewers with the Google Expeditions app to "travel" to the National Parks. This unit extended into Social Studies, where students learned mapping skills, and into Language Arts, where students read the novel "Gone Fishing".
The enrichment teachers played an important role in enhancing our students' learning during this unit. Students learned American themed songs and movements that connected to the National Parks in Music class, which they performed for their families on presentation day. The PE teachers led an outdoor adventure unit that included kayaking in the pool, learning about fly fishing, and walking the Coach Dupe trail with veteran hiker Coach Cole. In Art, students created land art sculptures inspired by artist Andy Goldsworthy’s work. In Library, students learned the computer program Tinkercad to design a keychain connected with their research project that will be 3D printed.
The learning extended outside the classroom with a walk to nearby Jones Creek to study erosion, a field trip to the Louisiana Art and Science Museum to see a National Parks movie, and a fabulous hike to see some waterfalls at the Clark Creek Natural Area in Mississippi. Each fourth grader received a free one-year park pass from the Every Kid in a Park program, which is a national youth initiative that specifically encourages fourth graders and their families to explore our country’s natural wonders and historic sites. We hope everyone will get a chance to explore our nation’s great outdoors…from California to the Gulf Stream waters!
Rosalyn is in her seventeenth year of teaching. Prior to coming to Episcopal five years ago, she taught at independent schools in New York City and Los Angeles. She is in her third year of teaching fourth grade science and taught second grade for two years. Rosalyn earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Whitman College and her Master’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education at New York University. She loves teaching science and finding ways to integrate technology and other subjects into the curriculum.
My favorite body part is ears because I like glamorous and beautiful earrings! I also like hearing Skip bark.
My favorite body part is hands because I like playing video games.
My favorite body parts are my joints. Those are your knees and elbows. They are my favorite because they help your legs and arms move.
From head to toe, Episcopal second graders are in-the-know about the human body! Students learned about six body systems in a six week project-based learning activity. At the end of the study, students wrote scripts and starred in videos explaining everything from the cerebellum to the diaphragm. Did you know babies have more bones than adults and there are over 650 muscles in the body? Click the videos below to see the second graders explain all of this and more about each system.
A trip to the second grade classrooms was like stepping into a science lab. Walls were adorned with posters showing everything from the students’ eye color to how many youngsters have broken a bone. There were fingerprints, models of the ribs and skeleton creations. All of this learning was organized into phases – writing, investigating, experimenting and experiencing. There were also special guest speakers, who truly made an impact on the students.
Dr. Jason taught us that it is important to keep our bones strong and you can do that by eating healthy and exercising.
I learned you have to wear sunscreen to not get a sunburn. The sun makes you get moles.
Your hair keeps you warm. Also your brain helps you think. Bones help you not wiggle.
The students’ favorite adults even had the opportunity to get involved as test subjects. Using brightly colored yarn, the students measured their adults’ jaws, hands, height and even digestive tract. The group celebrated the project completion with a cookie and individual books written by the students about the journey a cookie makes once eaten.
What a great way to learn about how the body works. If only Anatomy 101 could be so much fun!
Tucked into a quiet corner of campus, Frazer Hall is home to our youngest Episcopal Knights. Open the red doors and it is anything but quiet inside. The buzz and excitement of learning fills the air. PreK-4 students are engaged in their latest project: Exploring Communities.
In the project approach, students investigate meaningful questions that require them to gather information and think critically. Project-Based Learning isn't just about doing projects, but the process of students learning through projects. One of the critical pieces of gathering information involves interviewing “experts” who can provide students with answers to the questions they are researching.
We interviewed a cardiologist, Dr. Jeffrey Hyde, who taught us about keeping our heart healthy and how to take our pulse. He let us observe his surgical cap and stethoscope and even checked up on one of our friends who had been sick. She got a clean bill of health!
Restaurant owner, Rick Patel, shared his expertise in the food industry. We learned about eating and preparing healthy foods and practicing good hygiene during food preparation. Students especially enjoyed becoming a “sandwich artist” as Mr. Patel led a demonstration on how to roll Subway sandwiches.
We wrapped up this week with a visit from Avery Davidson, television news reporter for This Week in Louisiana Agriculture or TWILA. He brought the tools of his trade, a microphone and a camera. We watched how the video is recorded and edited for television. We enjoyed being silly and watching ourselves on camera.
Throughout the upcoming weeks, students will continue to explore the big question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” They will continue to tap into the talents of our Episcopal community with more guest experts including paramedics, an orthodontist and even a K-9 officer. At the conclusion of their project, PreK-4 will host a Career Day where students will share what they have learned from their experts about the many ways that they educate us, keep us safe and healthy, and create a caring community where we can grow up to achieve our dreams.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, returned to teach Pre-K4 at her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. After teaching second grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach first grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. Julie enjoys teaching alongside some of her former teachers and seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk.
On your mark. Get set. GO!
With that, the Episcopal first graders began the 2017 Healthy Selves Triathlon!
The first leg of the race required six year olds to swim the entire length of the pool. With stripes, polka dots, flags and fish themed bathing suits the children took to the pool with joy, excitement and surprisingly little splash. Meanwhile, parents cheered from the stands and coaches helped the swimmers cross the 25 meter pool. Afterwards, it was onto the bike lap which meant strapping on helmets and shoes and heading for the back of campus.
As they rounded the path, the youngsters were met by their classmates and friends from Pre-K and kindergarten who eagerly yelled through the playground fence. Once around, the students dropped their bikes and began the running lap. This is where they were met with the full force of the older Lower School students. Second graders chanted “Go 1st grade!” Parents and friends held posters and everywhere cameras were snapping. For the grand finale the students got to finish the triathlon with a run through the official Episcopal Knights football tunnel. What a day to be in first grade!
As the students told parents and staff before the triathlon began, the three sport event is the culmination of the Healthy Selves project based learning unit. Over the course of five weeks the students focused on what it means to be healthy. Students learned what constitutes a healthy plate, how to grow lettuce, how to make healthy snacks and smoothies and even how to stop a bleeding nose. There were yoga lessons, experiments on how germs spread and visits from a neurologist and dentist.
A project of this size requires tremendous collaboration between a range of teachers and staff. The PE teachers and coaching staff were all very involved along with the school chef, dance instructor and school nurse. The project truly highlights how project based learning touches every aspect of the child’s day and creates a team of school staff members ready and willing to help.
The hope is that such emphasis really makes an impact on the students and that the information is retained. Besides, how many six year olds can say they’ve completed a triathlon?!
To learn more about project based learning at Episcopal click here.