Creativity in Curriculum

Teaching at Parker is rewarding for many reasons: Small class sizes mean relationships between students and teachers are strong. Teachers have the freedom to delve deeply into topics of high interest and respond to each class, each year. The ability to exercise creativity and to be in control of their curriculum is very appealing. We are proud of our teachers and the responsibility they shoulder each year as designers of their students’ learning environment. No two years at Parker are ever alike!

Last week, our parents participated in a virtual version of our annual Curriculum Night, where they were able to see firsthand how skills like curiosity, questioning, and collaboration will play out during a year filled with passion, achievement, and fun.
Here is a look at some of the studies Parker teachers are delving into this year… 

Preschoolers are very focused on their outdoor space! They are enjoying the freedom of being outdoors and discussing how they feel when they are outdoors: “Happy; Active; Excited; Better.” They are also working with Michele and Sara to determine what are safe “boundaries”, and what it means to be “out of bounds”. This has evolved into a study of trail-building, and the class has spent many hours pouring over maps, marking and naming trails, and learning to recognize various trail words like “STOP”.

3-4 students are diving deep into a study of how humans are impacting water, focusing specifically on coral reefs. Nellie has been using sorting cards, books, and posters to present information about coral reefs in ways that speak to each student’s learning style. Students are working both in groups and independently to learn what a coral reef is, how they are formed, and the ways in which people are destroying them. Along with this study, each student is writing a “Coral Investigation” book that allows for independent exploration of the topic through writing, artwork, and data sharing. The class is also currently in the midst of constructing a large 3D replica of a coral reef using found materials such as cardboard, wire, and paper mache.

1st and 2nd grade writers have been busy expressing themselves on the page! Over the past month, students have been composing original works, workshopping their ideas with peers, and presenting their work to the whole class. Recently, the idea of buddy conferences was also introduced. These meetings give students the opportunity to share their work with a peer to receive valuable critique from an authentic audience. Students follow Lynn’s “Compliment Sandwich” philosophy, offering each other positive feedback, a suggestion for improvement, and then a closing compliment. Students will then use this peer feedback to revise and improve on their work, demonstrating the constant willingness to grow that distinguishes our lifelong learners.

The challenge of following COVID protocols has pushed many of our teachers to reimagine their curriculum in new and exciting ways. Sara Feltes took this year’s moratorium on singing as an opportunity to expand her middle school students’ instrumental repertoire. This fall, each grade is studying a different musical instrument: 5th grade, recorder; 6th grade, keyboard; 7th grade, drums; 8th grade, ukulele. Following their instrumental units, middle school students will move onto more academic pursuits of music, composing their own president’s raps (5th grade) and researching musical theatre (8th grade).

Middle school art students just completed a self-portrait study inspired by esteemed artist Kehinde Wiley (painter of President Obama’s official White House portrait). Claire challenged her students to research Wiley’s artwork along with historical images (which Wiley often uses to inspire his own paintings) to find a pose for their self portrait. Students then created their own backgrounds by hand, and photographed themselves against a green-screen in their chosen pose. Using technology, the students merged these two images together to create their self-portrait. We think you will agree, the results are captivating.

When losing teeth emerged as a frequent topic of intense discussion in her Kindergarten class, Leigh did what progressive educators do best — she ran with it! Over the past several weeks, Kindergarteners have studied the anatomy of teeth, examined and drawn their own teeth, and built pinch-pots to hold their eagerly anticipated first lost tooth. The class also designed and conducted a whole-school tooth survey, which Leigh plans to leverage into a math unit on graphing and statistics. Recognizing and utilizing student interests (no matter how obscure) to engage learners is a hallmark of Parker education, and our Kindergarten class is currently a toothy, joyful display of this type of learning in action.

One goal for Spanish students in our lower school is to have fluidity for language. In practice, this means teaching language in context with lots of visual instructions. Jen Baker has pivoted this year from using music (specifically singing) to instead incorporating lots of movement to teach language. She also pre-records herself singing and reading stories, so that students can visualize her enunciation and work on theirs while she is in the classroom.

Middle school math students began their year with a fun exploration of how mathematics works in everyday life. Inspired by the book “Math Curse” by Jon Scieszka, each grade used popular sweets to calculate measurements of various parts of Parker’s property. 7th grade, for example, measured the perimeter of our building and then calculated how many M&M’s it would take to surround the building. Each class’s findings will be compiled into a page for our own Parker “Math Curse” book, and the book will be supplemented by individual student pages, each describing their own unique idea for everyday measurement.