Numbers, Science with Bread, and Flour

Children are naturally little scientists. They are curious about the unknown and enjoy investigating new ideas. The class’s study of bread began at the same time seasonal illnesses peaked. To help teach the children the importance of hand washing, I used bread to illustrate how quickly germs spread. A perfect way to introduce the scientific method and have a good time learning! We discussed the proposed experiment and defined the vocabulary. The new terms that were explained were: control, hypothesize, and purpose. First, the class and I made the observation that germs are everywhere, that there are good and bad germs, and that we pass a lot of germs with our hands. Next we asked how quickly do germs on our hands spread? The class decided that the germs will spread fast on the bread that they were going to touch with dirty hands. The class took a vote, and we tallied the votes, to decide how long we are going to watch the bread; the conclusion was to watch the bread for a month. The experiment called for touching bread with clean and dirty hands then to put the bread in plastic baggies for observation. There were three slices total. One slice was the control, the slice that nothing happened to and would be used to compare, it was handled with a glove. The second slice, the “clean” slice, I put in the baggie with freshly cleaned hands. The third piece, the “dirty” slice, was passed around the class; their unwashed hands handled the slice and passed it from one child to the other. After the handling of the dirty slice, the children cleaned their hands. The goal of this experiment is to see that germs spread quicker on the slice of bread handled by dirty hands. Therefore, germs spread a lot faster when we do not wash our hands. Hopefully the take away from this experiment is we all need to keep our hands clean to minimize the spread of germs!

Since we have begun our bread study, I added flower in the sensory bin. I have never seen the class this excited about the sensory bin, and we have had some fun things in it this year. Sensory play enhances learning through hands-on activities that stimulate the child's senses. This is a great way for children to explore the world they live in and take the bread study to the next level. Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction.

Number (and letter) recognition take a lot of practice. Ideally, the children learn and review the numbers and letters in many different ways so as to anchor it in their memory. Many parents have asked me over the years for ways to help their child learn their numbers and letters. The biggest tip I can give is to review them out of order. Yes, learning the order is absolutely important, however, by reviewing and learning the number/letter out of order, you can see that the child is really focusing on the number/letter and not just rotely counting or singing a song. Sometimes the songs and rote memorization can distract the child from focusing on specific number or letter.

The numbers 11-20 tend to give this age group a hard time, I have seen it year in and year out. I devised a game to help teach the individual numbers and order of the numbers. It also gives me the opportunity to include a number line in the conversation. Each child received a number card, out of order, and I randomly called numbers 8-20. As I called the numbers the children had to look at their card to see if it was the number I called. If it was the one I called, they had to look at the students already in line and find their place. This hits several skills we are working on in a fun new way. One of the joys of teaching is seeing the excitement on students faces when a concepts clicks.

The semester is ramping up and we are looking forward to making memories and learning as much as possible!

Mrs. Claire

Claire Gordon
Nativity, Fine Motor, and Colonial Visit

This time of year schools are busy with programs and the holiday excitement abounds, and Prek is no exception! It is easy to get caught up in the rush of the Christmas holiday and lose focus on what is the true meaning of Christmas. We are so blessed to be able to teach our students about Jesus’ birth and talk openly about God at St. James. Last week the St. James PreK performed the Nativity story. The children have been very dedicated to learning the songs and movements for the program. How impressive these children are! They have memorized songs, lines, solos, and moving parts. All of which requires a tremendous amount of focus and commitment. Such a courageous group of children, it isn’t easy to perform in front of a large audience especially when it is full of your loved ones. I love that the children are able to soak up the story of Jesus’ birth. With the play, creating a sticker story, and role playing with puppets the children have the the Nativity story memorized.

 

The class has made several ornaments for our Christmas tree, they really enjoyed decorating the tree. One fun activity that the children completed was painting with bells. The children used small bells to paint a paper plate green, it later became a wreath with wrapping bows. This activity exercised the children’s fine motor muscles. Much of what is done in class helps develop the student’s fine and gross motor muscles. Which aids in more complex skills, such as: being able to dress and easily feed oneself, having strength and confidence in body movement, lessen writing fatigue, stronger computer keyboard skills, etc. We are very fortunate to attend PE everyday and strengthen their gross motor muscles and skills.

Last week, the children fashed back to the colonial period as they visited the 5th graders. Mrs. Jordan’s 5th graders did a great job as they gave their presentations while in full costume and time of the colonial period. I’ve said it before, and I am sure I will again, the younger students love visiting the middle school to see what the big kids have done in their classes. It builds on the mentoring relationships that are built between the different age groups. St. James is a one of a kind place and I feel abundantly blessed to be apart of this family.

 

MATHEMATICS AT ST. JAMES DAY SCHOOL

There is an old saying that if you get two educators in a room, you will have three opinions about which curriculum is best!  And likely a dozen textbook companies willing to sell the latest and shiniest course.

Mathematics has been a particular flash point in these different outlooks on curriculum.  In the 1990s, most public schools shifted to Reform Mathematics, which was itself a reform of the New Math of the 1960s and onwards.  

The predominant reform approach to math has not been a great success.  In the period of 2012-2015, the United States has slipped 12 points in the PISA assessment administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an assessment that includes students from nearly 70 countries throughout the world.

Many private schools, St. James included, stayed the course by teaching Classical Mathematics, with one significant change being that traditional concepts are taught at earlier ages than they were in past generations.    

At St. James, we continue to use a classical curriculum because it has been our experience, honed over many years, that the traditional structure is best for laying a developmentally-appropriate and solid foundation leading to long-term mastery of content skills for success in higher math in middle school and beyond.  

St. James uses the Saxon Math curriculum across grades 1 through 6.  Its pedagogical underpinnings include the following:

  • An incremental development of concepts with understanding its parts before trying to work with the whole concept

  • Continual review with required homework that has 85% of problems from previous lessons (no skipping of lessons unless student shows 80% mastery of problems from that lesson; no working “every other” problem)

  • De-emphasis of transitory test-taking tricks in favor of permanent mastery of concepts

  • Frequent cumulative assessments

  • No “hunk swallowing” of topics

  • Practice with new problems of repetition for learning, not for drilling

  • No use of calculators.

With minor adjustments which we make, our curriculum correlates to Common Core and TEKS (the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for math.   

Each year, we use the Stanford Achievement Test Series (SAT10), to measure our educational achievement.  The Stanford, used by many private schools, rates our students’ achievement not against a district norm, nor even a state norm, but against a national cadre.  We analyze these results closely at the end of each academic year.  

Instead of an approach to education based on “the average student”, we tailor our educational experience for each particular student.  As you would expect, different students have different skills and move at different paces.  For those students who need a “bump up” in a particular core subject, we provide it.  We do the same for those students who need extra support.   

Because St. James provides this individualized education, our yearly analysis of the SAT10 is for each student.  This way we can differentiate the educational experience so that each child learns at his own pace and in her own way.  We understand that this personal attention is one of the reasons that you send your child to St. James.

Needless to say, there will be students who excel in subjects when they leave us, math included, and those who will need extra support, but a firm foundation of skills and comprehension will have been laid at St. James in either case.

As a whole, St. James graduates regularly and consistently

  • finish high school in the top ten percent of their class

  • receive significant college scholarship awards

  • are admitted to many of the most selective colleges to which they apply.   To give but one example, this year one of our 2011 graduates was admitted to Harvard.

Since 2000, thirteen St. James graduates have been either the valedictorian or salutatorian of local public high schools.  In eight of those years, St. James grads have seen both valedictorians and salutatorians amongst the several local schools.  This is hardly a statistical anomaly, but a remarkable accomplishment given that our graduates comprise only the tiniest percentage of the thousands of students who attend these educational institutions.

St. James Day School consults regularly with wider educational leaders to ensure that we are preparing our students for their next educational placement.  To keep current, we confer with local educators at public middle school, high school and university levels.  We also have the benefit of the collective wisdom of a community of Episcopal Schools through our accrediting body.  This consultation means that we provide the best and most up-to-date educational experience possible.  
As always, the Administration of the School welcomes and encourage ongoing feedback from parents, knowing as we do that we are partners in your child’s education.  For seventy years now, St. James has been the educational leader in Texarkana.  We are thankful that your family is part of this tradition of educational excellence.

Have a blessed holiday!

Claire

 

Claire Gordon
Kindness, Listening, and Patterns

What a great week it has been in Pre-k! I was not ready to let go of my beautiful turkey with student crafted feathers, so it has become our Christmas turkey! Joined with beautifully painted gifts and a sweetly decorated tree, thanks to my precious students.

IMG_4269.jpg

The children helped decorate the class by adding lights of kindness. In a world where kindness is a fading moral value, it is so nice to be at a place like St. James. Here we teach, encourage, and recognizes kindness. In a colorful paper Christmas light, the children created a picture of themselves showing kindness to someone else. The pictures range from sharing with someone to hugging people to playing with someone who is sad. After explaining the pictures to me, the children cut out the lights and I hung them in the window. Several of the children pulled their grandparents and parents into class yesterday afternoon and this morning to show their lights and examples of kindness. Such a great way to encourage the discussion of ways to be kind.

IMG_4247.JPG

The children completed an activity early in the week that required listening to directions and being able to see something and copy it accurately. I asked each child what they would do if Santa was stuck in their chimney and I wrote their answer on their chimney page. After the children colored their chimney, they had to glue Santa’s legs, boots, and cotton on his pants. The catch was that it had to look like the example I made. I wanted to see how well the children, in groups of two, were listening to the directions and using the example I had on display. I hung them in the hallway above the work done by students in Mrs. Tracy’s class. Make sure to take a look when you get a chance!

Patterns and pattern making are used in algebra, geometry, rhyme scheme, and sequencing. There are even studies that show that pattern recognition also helps with spelling and grammar. Being able to make patterns and have the capability to distinguish different repeating (AB, ABB, ABC, etc) patterns is a skill that takes practice and repetition. The children get so excited when they create more complex patterns and when they are able to point patterns out with ease. This week in a small group session the class made Christmas light patterns. First, the children and I used connecting cubes to make several patterns, then I gave each child three crayons, and gave them the instructions for each line of lights. They had to make an AB pattern on the first line, AAB pattern on the second, and an ABC pattern on the third. On the final line of the page the children could create their own pattern. There were a lot of instructions and some patterns were slightly confusing to some students, but they all persisted and completed the pages. I am very impressed with their determination and hard work.

The next few weeks will be filled with learning about the birth of Jesus and remember why we have this lovely season every year. We are all very excited about the Nativity program next week!

Have a blessed week,

Claire

Claire Gordon
Great Opportunities

November has been full of special opportunities for the students. The first Friday of the month the class went on an adventure to Egypt! The sixth graders created presentations and dressed accordingly to the Ancient Egyptian era. My students love going to presentations given by the middle school students, but the annual Egyptian Fair is always one of their favorites. Students move through each student’s presentation and listen to the interesting facts about medicines used at the time, the architecture, and the different layers of the hierarchical system. The connection between the “big” kids and the younger students is so special. It is such a precious mentoring experience for both age levels.

IMG_3751.JPG
IMG_3752.JPG

The weather in Texas can be quite unpredictable. We were fortunate one Monday to be able to have a picnic outside. It is such a pleasure to have the flexibility, beautiful campus, and available space to have an impromptu picnic! It is so nice to get some extra fresh air before the weather gets too cold or rainy.  

IMG_3882.JPG

Another wonderful opportunity the children were able to be a part of was making Thanksgiving decorations for those who don’t have any. This spectacular group of PreK students donated 102 hand decorated cards and 130 beautifully colored placemats to the Randy Sams’ Outreach Shelter. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Andrew Curry, D.D.S., the children were also able to give over 200 tubes of toothpaste to the shelter. This was an excellent opportunity to remind the children the importance of doing things for other, even when you receive nothing tangible in return.

As we are finishing up the study of pets, the children have had two fantastic hands on learning experiences arise. Thanks to the connection of one of the mothers in class, the children were able to see, pet, and hear an 11 week old potbelly piglet. He was so cute and the children loved getting to learn about the pet.

 

To close out the study, we took a field trip to a local pet store, the DogPatch. It was a great way to bring many of the concepts we have been discussing together. The children were able to see and feel different pets. They were also able to see the different environments of the animals. Being able to see all of the food, cages, toys, clothes, and grooming supplies brought everything full circle. Children, especially at this age, learn by touching, hearing, seeing, and using as many senses as possible. The more sense the children use, the more connected the concepts are for them; this also aides in crossing what has been learned over to long term memory. Studying pets has been a great way to offer opportunities to teach the children the importance of taking care of others, gathering information that can be used to compare and contrast concepts such as animals and habitats, explore a variety of materials used to care for pets, and jobs related to pets. 

What a great month November has been, and it is only half over! We are looking forward to more studies and learning about the birth of Jesus. Pets has been a great study and we bring it to an end by saying bye to our class pet, Jingles.

IMG_4055.JPG
Claire Gordon
Shelters, Pets, Ukuleles, and Halloween!

In Pre-k this week, the class has had a few more days to jump into the pets study. One of the great things about our curriculum is it allows flexibility to focus on ideas that peak the interest of the class. Some of our vocabulary words since beginning our study are rescue, shelter, wild, domesticated, enclosure, and cage. The class loves pretending to be wild and domesticated animals, I do believe wild animals are their favorite. Instead of taking a field trip to a local animal shelter, the class took a virtual field trip. Using technology to tour an animal shelter gave the children a more thorough view of what a shelter looks like and the different areas where the shelter helps the pets. The following day the children were put into small groups and asked to build a shelter. I asked them to discuss with one another and make a plan of where they would put certain areas for the animals. They had the option of making it flat, like a blueprint, or build it up. I explained there was a time limit and when time was up, each group would share about their shelter. In the class discussion about shelters, we covered that the animals are in cages, there is are areas for animals who are sick or need shots, and a place for the animals to get groomed. I was very impressed while listening to the children describe their shelters. Every group added something to the shelter that would benefit the animals; the rooms the children added were things we hadn’t even gone over in class yet. These children are so thoughtful! Several groups added places for the animals to potty, areas (in great detail) for them to exercise and play with toys, a place to view the area from above to see how the animals play together, and places to keep/distribute food and treats. These were extraordinary animal shelters -- any animal would be lucky to live in them! The activity was a great demonstration of the children’s level of comprehension.Watching them apply their knowledge about shelters as they designed and created the animal shelters was amazing.

Later in the week, the children compared and contrasted different pet foods. You might have been told that we conferred and contracted, the terminology is a little tricky to pronounce at times. We did confer, but I assure you there were no contracts being made about pet food in PreK this week. The class compared three different types of pet food: cat, dog, and turtle. I had no idea how badly turtle food smelled until Jingles, the class turtle, came into my life. This week, the class learned how it and canned cat food smells - and they were excited about it! After the fun of the different smells settled, the children explained how the foods were alike and how they were different. It was challenging to find commonalities amongst the three, but the groups persisted and were able to list a couple.

Wednesday morning, we had a surprise visit from two 5th grade ladies. Elle and Annabell gave the class a presentation about ukuleles. Elle let each child feel the frets and strings, strum the ukulele, and tap it like a drum. Annabell closed the presentation by playing a short song for the class. My class was engaged and fascinated by the ukuleles. I will have to ask Elle and Annabell to come back when we are studying music.

IMG_3554.JPG
IMG_3556.JPG

Today the both PreK classes joined in on a St. James tradition. For many years, the PreK classes at St. James have traveled to Opportunities Inc. and sang halloween songs to the students. The students this year worked very hard to learn all of the songs and they were very excited to wear their Halloween costumes. The classes did an outstanding job! After their performance, the children went to a classmate's house for a Halloween party. Fun was had by all! 

Have a blessed week, 

Claire

Claire Gordon