Sam Intrator, Head of School and Professor of Education and Child Study
Observations from the Head of School, Sam Intrator

May 1, 2017

Dear Campus School Families,

We had a wonderful Grandparents' and Special Elders' Day at the Campus School! The school was filled with energy and excitement as our students performed for our guests and they visited classrooms. Thank you to all that made this day a huge success.



April 10, 2017

Dear Campus School Families:

Last night at the performance of the play, I talked with a set of grandparents in our lobby. In the middle of the conversation, they turned to me and said, "These radial weavings are just beautiful." They were talking about the 6th grade clay and yarn designs hanging at the front of the school. The intricate geometric designs use color, shape, and texture as materials. As we walked back in to watch our 5th graders in "Once Upon a Leprechaun," I took notice of how the play provides them opportunity to sing, dance, act, design costumes, and develop sets. All over our school, children are working on creations that require attention to qualitative relationships between materials, story, and ideas.

One of the qualities that defines us as a school is our commitment to providing children opportunity to deploy their imagination in how they work. Our students - whether they are writing poems, conducting science experiments, or developing a design to express their mathematical thinking- are working to combine and compose ideas and formulate aesthetic judgments. As I watched a student huddled over a piece that they were writing, I was witnessing a writer reckon with nuances such as- is this the right word, does this idea connect, and how can I say this more clearly or with more aesthetic zing.

I love being part of a school where this type of thinking happens all the time.


April 3, 2017

Dear Campus School Community:

I am excited to announce that on Wednesday April 26th (6pm-8pm) we will be hosting a parent workshop at SCCS with Peg Dawson, a school psychologist who is nationally recognized as an expert in executive function skills in children and adults.

Here at SCCS view executive skills as central to all children's development. These are the skills that help us pay attention, organize our ideas, get started, plan ahead, be flexible when we need to change course, and think before acting One of the ways we talk about executive function skills is derived from a report from Harvard's Center on the Developing Child.

The report describes executive function and self-regulation as critical to development, "Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, executive function skills allow us to retain and work with information in our brains, focus our attention, filter distractions, and switch mental gears."

Peg Dawson's workshop will provide an overview of why these skills are important and then provide practical approaches that we can be using within our families to build these skills for all children. Earlier this fall, we sent a team of teachers to participate in her workshop and they shared how useful and important the workshop was with their colleagues. Our consulting psychologist, Hannah Lord, said, "Peg was so knowledgeable and down to earth, her language and approach was accessible and powerful. "

As the lab school for Smith College, this event is open to parents and teachers and the public. Please share with others who might be interested.


Dawson lecture

March 27, 2017

Dear SCCS Families:

All of SCCS was dancing on Thursday. Each year the Smith College Community Dance Class organizes a workshop for SCCS. The studentsin class present short dances that connect to their homeland, heritage or their dance interests. After each performace, they invite our SCCS students up to dance with them. This year our students danced Bollywood style, Hawaiian Hula, West African steps, and more. Late that day, several of our kindergarten students recreated their favorite dance on our playground.

It sure is wonderful being the lab school for Smith College!



Dance at SCCSDance at SCCS



March 20, 2017

Dear Campus School Community:

One of my cherished mentors, Elliot Eisner, was a professor, an artist, and a titan in the field of arts education. At the center of his work was the idea that art making and storytelling are what makes humans a distinct species. He would tell us that art and stories help build community by providing the special objects and narratives that contribute to the glue a community needs to thrive together. Art and story are at the center of our community and our learning here at SCCS. 

In an effort to share our art and story in a broader and more dynamic way at SCCS, we are excited to let you know that we are launching a Facebook page for SCCS. This will be a place where we will share snippets of the art, story, and conversation that unfolds within our school. We invite you to join us on Facebook and to share your thoughts, comments, and impressions. And-- as with all things Facebook-- "liking" the posts helps keep them in the larger conversation.


March 6, 2017

Dear Families,

The circus came to our school on Thursday! Our 2nd and 4th graders worked with performing artists from Circus Smirkus during the week and gave a wonderful performance for our school. Please enjoy some of the photos below!

Circus Smirkus Circus Smirkus
Circus Smirkus Circus Smirkus
Circus Smirkus



February 27, 2017

Dear Campus School Families:

As the Lab School for Smith College, our community has access to many Smith-related events happening on this extraordinary campus. I wanted to share a link that I often go to to see what's happening around campus. It's the Smith News site -- and I encourage you to visit it occasionally as the College offers a never-ending cycle of mind and spirit-enlarging events and speakers.

A quick perusal of the Smith News this week:

  • Oprah Winfrey will give the Smith Commencement speech this year.
  • Eminent Harvard psychologist, Robert Kegan, will give a Presidential Colloquium lecture on "The Deliberately Developmental Organization: A New Social Contract for Work?" on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 4:30 in the Weinstein Auditorium. The talk examines how work settings would be different if they took account of recent breakthroughs in the understanding of adult development and the brain.
  • Former Campus School parent, president emerita of Spelman College, and internationally recognized scholar Dr. Beverly Tatum will lead "A Dialogue with Beverly Daniel Tatum on Creating Inclusive Classrooms at Smith College" on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 from 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm at Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall, Smith College. Dr. Tatum is the author of Can We Talk about Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation. We are thrilled that she will also be talking to SCCS teachers and staff for a special event on Tuesday, March 1st.

This is just a sampling of the many wonderful events unfolding in our larger community of Smith. I hope to see you at some of these events.


February 18, 2017

Dear Campus School Community:

Friday was our 100th Day of School! In recognition of this milestone, I put together a short video describing a habit of mind that runs through so much of what happens each day at SCCS. I called it "
Living the Questions at SCCS"

As I always do when I put together these videos, I offer a caveat. While I lack technical expertise, I make up for it with genuine enthusiasm for sharing the spirit and energy of our school.

Have a wonderful February break and I hope you get to be part of some conversations anchored in some "big idea" questions!


Living the Questions at SCCS

February 10, 2017

Dear Campus School Families:

Ralph Waldo Emerson has a poem titled "Snow Storm" that captures elements of yesterday's wild snow storm. Today all through the playground our SCCS students were sledding, building, tunneling, and clumping about amidst the drifts. Emerson's poem captures a bustling group of our younger students clad in snow suits of multitudinous colors digging away in what Emerson calls, "The frolic architecture of the snow."

As the lab school of Smith College we are connected to many college events and activities. This weekend has some fun events worth attending if you can make it. Today is a free event at the Smith College Art Museum. Our colleague Gina Hall, Director of School & Family Programs at the Museum and somebody who works closely with Campus School teachers and children is heading up the the program:  Valentines from Venus: Wear your heart on your sleeve.

On Saturday, the Smith athletics department is hosting National Girls and Women in Sports Day. The program will feature Smith athletes and others providing clinics, workshops and other activities honoring women and sports. Many of my Smith College students and my colleagues who coach at Smith will be participating. A second important event is the Smith College women's basketball game at 2 pm at Ainsworth gym . The women's team at Smith is terrific and if you have never seen them play, it's worth going. Admission is free and the atmosphere for the game is exciting. Full disclosure: this year I went back to one of my old gigs, which is doing the play-by-play commentary on the webcasts for Smith basketball. I am a huge fan of the program that Coach Lynn Hersey runs.



February 3, 2017

Dear Campus School Families:

Last night I served on a panel at Mt. Holyoke College during a screening of a new documentary titled "The Passion to Teach"

The film profiles a teacher that strives to engage children in idea-centered and meaningful learning experiences. What was interesting was that the film positioned this teacher's practice as "unique" and the narrator would often describe her and other teachers like her as "maverick teachers" in that the heart of their practice focused on learning that stirred a child's imagination and encouraged their natural curiosity.

As I sat and watched the film, I was struck by how the narrative of the film explicitly suggested that these forms of learning and teaching were rare and hard to find. I sat there in my role as a father, a teacher, a principal, and a professor of education and child study and thought-- this type of learning that this film celebrates is the norm at SCCS. We are a place where teachers can create unique and innovative curriculum that is driven by students' curiosity and their sense of wonder. We are a place of questions and inquiry and ideas.

Everyday I feel grateful to be spending my time with the children, families, and teachers at SCCS. Watching this film made remember again that SCCS is a distinct and remarkable learning community.

Sincerely, Sam


January 27, 2017

Dear Campus School Families:

Our teachers have been working all year on exploring our science curriculum. Almost every Wednesday this year we have set aside time to think together about what it means to teach science and to learn about our world. One of the core resources is a book called Natural Curiosity: Building Children's Understanding of the World Through Environmental Inquiry. This book leads with a quote from Rachel Carson, "I should ask that a gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life...If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

On Wednesday the teachers in our building were treated to an experience that ignited our own sense of wonder. Our teachers met with four Smith scientists who described the questions and processes that guide their own work as biologists, engineers, and geologists. Two of the scientists were SCCS parents: Professor Borjana Mikic from engineering and Professor Sarah Pruss from geology. Hearing about their work and how they view the importance of observation, inquiry, questions, and idea building was inspiring. These ideas will infuse our curriculum work as we go forward. Another reason we are so lucky to be the lab school for Smith College.



January 20, 2017

Dear Campus School Families:

Driving to school this morning, I heard a commentator reflecting on the etymology of “inauguration.” The word derives from Latin inaugarat— which means an omen as in the “flight of birds.” Walking through the school this morning, I was aware of the conversations in hallways, questions in classrooms, and a general sense that all of us —adults and children— are aware that today our democracy peacefully transfers power from President Obama to President Trump.
Walking up the ramp in the connector I looked up to encounter what I hopefully consider to be a profound “omen” for our time. The bulletin board at the top of the ramp portrays a collection of cut paper collages crafted by our second graders. Each collage signifies what our second graders identify as an indispensable right for children in our world. The sign reads, “Everybody has a right to…”

Every one has a right to

  • Freedom
  • Friendship
  • School
  • Art
  • Shelter
  • Work

The inspiring collages exhibit the product of deep and careful thinking of what it means to be part of a just community and how all people share a common dignity and humanity. These values show up across the grades and in many SCCS units of study, but discovering them today amidst the events of the world bolstered my resolve.  Clearly, our children are on their way to becoming citizens with the imaginative capacity to engage the world with the empathy that President Obama celebrated in his farewell address when he quoted Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Steeped in cultivating empathy, this particular project begins with children responding to the questions:

  • What do people need to survive?
  • What do all people need to live a good and happy life?

Our second graders engage in brainstorming, writing, and research around these questions. They think about what is a right and examine the idea of universality. They then learn about the formation of the United Nations, and how in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the U.N. Our students study what the U.N. identified as those fundamental human rights and compare the list they collectively created. This exploration then becomes the frame for the study of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and a time in our history where many people were denied these universal human rights.

And so I come back to another etymological root of “inauguration”— the word augur— which means to portend or foreshadow. And as look I forward, I find great hope and promise that our SCCS students are living to the ideal proclaimed in the U.N. Declaration that we, “shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”



January 13, 2017

Dear Campus School Families:

Over 25 years ago, the Campus School began a meaningful tradition that continues today. On the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we hold an assembly for our entire school. In the assembly we sing songs celebrating the courageous fight for equality and civil rights. While our school community lifts our collective voice honoring the long quest for justice through songs such as, "What Can One Little Person Do" and "Bound for the Promised Land" --  the meaning behind the lyrics gets examined in our classrooms.

In the weeks leading up to this heartfelt all-school event, our students study literature that examines efforts to create a fair and just society. They talk about the events of the world, and they think about ways that our community can make a positive impact in today's world. These conversations continue all year, but today's assembly brings us together in one voice. One of the most cherished traditions of this assembly is a full-school recital of Reverend King's "I Have a Dream Speech." Each first through sixth grade classroom memorizes and recites a portion of the speech and then everyone watches Dr. King give his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The spirit of the kindergartners-6th graders sitting in reverence to those words is a special moment.

I felt the deep poignancy of this moment this year. In my remarks to the community, I reflected on President Obama's most recent public speech earlier this week and how it had resonance with today's assembly. He said, "We are a great country. But we're not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do."  This is a community that is hungry to do the work and, as President Obama said, "hitch [our] wagon to something bigger than" ourselves. That was the spirit of our assembly.

Have a wonderful weekend. I look forward to working with our community as we move forward this year.


December 19, 2016

Dear Campus School Community:

One of the questions I get asked often get since I started working at SCCS: "What does it mean to be a lab school?"

This semester, I have been tracking a wonderful "example" of a lab school project focused on how children use thinking tools to make "thinking visible." See the video on this...

It's a project that began in EDC 238: Introduction to the Learning Sciences, a large introductory course taught by Professor Al Rudnitsky. His college students take the lead on the project, but what makes it uniquely" lab school" is how this project energizes thinking and conversation among SCCS students, teachers, college faculty, and Smith students.

I loved following this project because when we think of our work as a "lab school" we typically focus on the impact to our student teachers. And while our teachers-to-be bring energy, idealism, and endless questions about teaching and children SCCS, being a lab school encompasses so much more. In fact, over 70 students regularly work in different roles at SCCS from working in the library, to supporting the technology program, to tutoring children, to supervising classrooms during lunch, to singing with our chorus, to teaching in our after-school and Wednesday program, to supporting children during recess, to helping manage the traffic on Prospect Street during pickup and drop-off.

We often describe SCCS as an elementary school nested inside a world-class liberal arts college; however, the reality is more dynamic and I hope this case study of our lab school in action demonstrates how our relationship with Smith College is one of our most distinctive and exciting qualities.

I originally was going to write an essay on this, but thought the pictures and video snippets would help express the nuances of our lab school relationship. I am still working on my photography and my understanding of video editing, but as we tell our student teachers and SCCS students in regard to Carol Dweck's 'growth mindset'-- instead of always going back to the tried and true, seek out experiences and learning "that will stretch you." In that spirit....


Have a wonderful holiday season,



September 10, 2016

Dear Campus School Community:

While I am in a new role this year as the Smith College Faculty Director of SCCS-- it still encompasses opportunities for me to share my unbounded enthusiasm for all the wonderful moments of learning that comprise everyday life at SCCS. Enjoy the video that I put together in an effort to convey the good energy and positive vibe of our first week. As with all my "video efforts" -- what I lack in technical precision I try and make up for with genuine enthusiasm!

Have a great rest of your weekend,


First Days Of School 2016-17

April 21, 2016

Dear Campus School Community:

I hope that your family is enjoying the beautiful and cooperative Spring Break weather. Despite my limits with the camera and the software, I can't resist trying to tell all the great stories that I see unfolding around me at SCCS!

Have a long weekend,

Spring VIdeo (click here)

March 11, 2016

Dear Campus School Community,

As we head off into our week of Spring Break, I wanted to share a conversation that I had with a third grader last week. I walked over to her desk and she was writing notes in a folder. The prompt she was working on read, “What can you learn from looking at this photo?

I asked her, “What are you working on?”

She responded, “I am becoming an expert.”

I then asked, “What does it mean to be an expert?”

She looked at me without missing a beat and said, “Experts know so much stuff that they ask really good questions.”

I followed up, “Why do experts ask good questions?”

Her answer was beautiful;  “As we learn more, we get better and deeper ideas.”

Implied in her observation about the nature of expertise and learning are some powerful precepts about knowledge and learning that define work here at the Campus School.  We believe that thinking is improvable. We believe that as we learn more, read more, and advance our knowledge – we can improve our ideas. These precepts felt affirmed by another important interaction that I had later in the week:

I walked out of my office and into a swell of 25 or so Smith students pacing around our front foyer. They were clustering around, notebooks in hand, ready to head out do some fieldwork at SCCS as part of their class taught by Professor Al Rudnitsky, How Do We Know What Students Are Learning, which is an upper-level Smith course focused on introducing students to the processes used to measure and assess learning in classrooms.

Each year Professor Rudnitsky’s students undertake an in-depth project that seeks to understand a critical facet of learning, and they develop a methodology of answering questions that includes interviews with teachers, observations in classrooms, surveys conducted with our students, and focus group interviews with our children. The course begins with students reviewing some of the core and undergirding ideas from the research literature on the learning sciences as they collectively decide what they will focus on studying.

This year — as they have in years past— they decided to explore the critical driver of learning across contexts. Professor Rudnitsky’s students agreed to pursue a project that explores how students consciously attend to the planning and monitoring of their own learning. The technical term for this is metacognition, which is defined as one’s ability to understand, control, and manipulate one’s cognitive processes. It includes knowing when and where to use particular strategies for learning and problem solving as well as how and why to use specific strategies. Metacognition is the ability to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task and modify one’s approach as needed. This term and concept comes to us from John Flavell, a Stanford researcher, that studied how children that reflected on their thinking learned more effectively. Flavell who coined the term metacognition explained it by saying, "I am engaging in Metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as fact.”

As Professor Rudnitsky’s students set off across the building, I asked him, “Al— you visit schools and talk with teachers all the time, what is it that you think is distinctive about learning and teaching at SCCS?” Al looked pensive for a bit and then said, “It’s what my students are studying. Children here learn to think about their thinking and learning."

I have been thinking about Al’s observation since that conversation. I think he is right, everywhere you turn at SCCS you can observe our effort to build children’s capacity to be metacognitive. Teaching children to be conscious and actively monitoring their own thinking is central to teaching and learning at SCCS.  

A few glimpses of SCCS students engaging in metacognitive thinking:

Across the grades, we emphasize that good readers listen to their “inner voice” or attend to “inner conversation.” As one teacher asked in her weekly note home to parents, “What is your “inner voice” when you’re reading and how can it help you notice when you’re learning something while you’re reading non-fiction?  What might it be saying in your head?” All across the building you will see chart paper noting prompts such as, “I’m thinking… I’m noticing…. I’m wondering… It reminds me of…”

In our earliest grades onward, a series of questions that students use after completing a project or asks them to document and explain how their thinking has evolved: “I used to think….. Now I think….” and “I know…. I wonder….” Our students also frequently huddle up for an activity that is sometimes called, “think, turn & talk.” For example, students observe a plant or study a section of text. After they engage in solo observation the first step is to jot down their ideas about what they observed. They then turn to talk with classmates in a dyad or small group where they clarify their conceptions and engage in what some researchers describe as “conceptual conflict” and finally they intentionally process and document how their thinking has changed. Researchers describe this as “metacognitive discourse” and associate it with improved learning.

In sixth grade, our students co-facilitate their parent conferences. These conferences are organized around “goals” that our sixth graders set with their teachers at the outset of the year. For example, a student might set a goal focused on approaching homework independently and learning to organize their time without parent intervention. “I want to manage homework by myself.” In the middle of the year, they reflect on progress toward the goal in writing at mid-year and then co-facilitate the conference at the end of the year. The experience of setting a personal goal and then engaging in sustained and guided reflection, builds the metacognitive capacity.

Let me end with a specific example of metacognition in action. I was in the art room the other day and Bob Hepner had assembled students on the rug in the front with a series of small clay sculptures. The sculptures — as they often do— ranged from wildly abstract to realistic representations of animals. Bob had all the artwork arranged on the rug and he asked this large and spacious open-ended question: “What do you notice?” Students shared their observations and their noticings.

As I watched them reflect on their decisions and how they were aware of their thinking and aesthetic choices during the design and production of the sculpture, I was reminded of an interview I once read by the great Harvard psychologist Eleanor Duckworth, “If you want people to have original ideas in graduate school, you have to set the groundwork for them to have played around with ideas.”

As a college professor of graduate and undergraduate students, I want my students to be deeply metacognitive. I want them reflecting on their thinking and recognize that developing expertise enables them to ask more compelling and nuanced questions. I want them to be flexible thinkers who ask great questions. In short, I want them to have the spirit of learning that I experience each day in our Campus School classrooms.



January 31, 2016

Dear Campus School Community,

The front page of Friday’s Gazette headline read "Lessons in Social Change." The first sentence captured a true glimpse of SCCS in action: "Even in a city where outdoor protests are common, the sight of 30 second-graders enthusiastically marching down Elm Street on Thursday singing songs like "This Little Light of Mine" was an unusual one.

The march down Elm Street is one facet in an immersive study of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that began when Rosa Parks resolved to give up her seat on the bus for a white person in Montgomery, Alabama. Our second grade delves deep into studying the events of the boycott as part of a larger investigation of what it takes to transform injustice through social action. It's a study of what it takes to mobilize for social change.

As I think about our second graders studying archival photographs of the protest movements and identifying how a protest action is comprised of many individuals who band together in common cause, I also appreciate how this unit of study ties together important learning that occurs in other grades at the Campus School. There is a developmental arc across the grades that informs the moment when our second graders walk down Elm Street singing songs of unity and prote.

I trace the roots back to kindergarten where our children spend the year exploring five powerful words: kindness, patience, courage, cooperation, and resilience. Our kindergartners engage these words through story and play. They write and draw stories of of when they experienced kindness or acted with courage. The read children’s books that explore themes such as patience and resilience and then discuss, draw and write about the importance of these qualities in their learning and relationships.

In first grade, the ideas come back in the form of the "Great Changer Unit," where our students study women and men who have worked in positive and non-violent ways to change the world. These Great Changers such as Jane Goodall, Cesar Chavez, Gertrude Ederle, or Wilma Rudolph catalyzed enduring change in our world because they acted with kindness, patience, courage, cooperation, and resilience. These qualities of spirit and character infuse the writing, poetry, and and artwork produced by the first graders as they tell the story of their Great Changer. These projects also involve our older students as the first graders read books on their “great changer” with their 5th grade reading buddy and then present their poems and projects to the 6th graders.

Second grade picks up the thread by asking: how does social change happen? How does a movement unfold and develop momentum? The conceptual bridge that occurs is profound. The unit on the Montgomery Bus Boycott becomes a case study of the process of how individuals come together, connect with each other, organize for action, and then move a cause forward. It's an arc of learning from kindergarten to third grade that results in our students developing a full appreciation and understanding of Margaret Mead's oft-quoted view of the world, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

SCCS’s emphasis on collaborative action continues across the grades in a myriad of projects and studies including: community service endeavors, explorations of ecology, studies of other forms of social resistance and movements, compassion education, and an ongoing commitment to thinking, talking, and creating together.  On Friday, our 6th-grade Smith College student teacher assembled a panel for our 6th graders on gender. There were seven panelists -- most of whom were from Smith College. In debriefing with the college students at the end, one of the students said, “I can’t believe they were sixth graders; they asked amazing questions. It was inspiring to know they were thinking so much about the larger world.” I so valued this feedback because it demonstrates a spirit of being concerned with the world and committed to understanding the experiences of others. 

And I can hear the echoes of those words our students encountered in kindergarten: kindness, patience, courage, cooperation, and resilience.




December 18, 2015

Dear Campus School Families:

I wanted to wish you a wonderful holiday filled with fun, learning, and excitement. I hope that your days away from SCCS will be filled with memorable moments of play, family time, and adventure. And in between all the adventure, I hope you can find some time to read, paint, draw, putter, and relax.

As I prepare to settle into some time off, I have been sorting through the backlog of journals and articles that my colleagues send my way. This morning as I was thumbing through a journal called Language Arts, which is the premier journal of the National Council of Teachers of English, I found myself intrigued by a special issue focused on students and teachers as creators. The issue was devoted to teachers and researchers sharing their ideas for creating space and opportunity for children to tap into their creative power.

The collective authors have a view of creativity drawn from the great Russian cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky who advocated for something he calls the “everyday idea of creativity.” I find both solace and inspiration in his view, which contends:

Creativity is present, in actuality, not only when great historical works are born but also whenever a person imagines, combines, alters, and creates something new, no matter how small a drop in the bucket this new thing appears compared to the work of geniuses.

I share this because I want to offer an alternative thought on the importance of a school break like the one we have just begun.

In a wonderful 1950 article “Imagination and Creativity in Childhood Vygotsky attempts to describe the "psychological mechanism underlying imagination and the creative activity.” He wants to know where the capacity for creativity comes from and he pithily discards the idea that creativity is a mystical or divine vision. He says it would be a  "miracle indeed if imagination could create something out of nothing.” Instead, Vygotsky concludes that the catalyst for imagination is lived experience, "imagination always builds using materials supplied by reality.” This begets what he calls his first law of creativity:

Now we can induce the first and most important law governing the operation of the imagination. This law may be formulated as follows: the creative activity of the imagination depends directly on the richness and variety of a person’s previous experience because this experience provides the material from which the products of fantasy are constructed. The richer a person’s experience, the richer is the material his imagination has access to… All else being equal, the richer the experience, the richer the act of imagination.

As I think about it, as SCCS children are on break they are accumulating the fuel for their imagination. When they connect with far-flung family, travel to other places, engage in activities outside the routines of what is possible during school they are building the storehouse of alchemic ingredients that power imagination and creativity.

So -- as you head off here and there -- know that children are doing perhaps the most important homework we can design: They are building their imaginative capacity.

And, I will end by returning to Vygotsky and how he concludes his article. He writes, “Every inventor, even a genius, is also a product of his time and his environment.” His point is that context and environment matter. He contends that there is a “social coefficient” and that imagination and creativity must be cultivated and championed or else it withers. I believe that SCCS is an environment where imagination and creativity are the coin of our realm. This is what we do and I look forward to 2016 and all the big, bold, playful, and imaginative ideas that I will get a chance to see, hear, and learn about this coming year.

Have a wonderful holiday,



November 26, 2015

Dear Campus School Families and Community:

I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday. While the footage is grainy and the segues clunky, please focus on the overarching message-- which is gratitude for the many ways our community supports our children in their learning and development.

All my best to your family on this special holiday,



October 20, 2015

Dear Campus School Community:

As you know this is the week that the Dalai Lama was scheduled to visit SCCS. While we remain disappointed that health issues prevented the Dalai Lama from spending the morning at SCCS, we have put together an exciting plan to carry forward the momentum that had developed around why the Dalai Lama chose to visit our school.

While the Dalai Lama has postponed the visit, we have decided to mount a program on Friday that will include opportunities for parents to join us at the school from 1:45-2:45 for special programs described below. Before I share the details on Friday’s plan, just a reminder that tomorrow (Wed 10/21) is a regular half day with regular Wed. after-school program

FRIDAY: 10/23

  • 1:45-2:15  Parents visit classrooms: The Dalai Lama was planning to visit classrooms and observe how children and teachers work together at SCCS. We invite you to visit your child’s classroom to experience a community-building practice.  We hope you will join us!

  • 2:15-2:40 SCCS Assembly: Please join us for a school-wide assembly where children will sing a medley of songs on peace, compassion, and kindness.

I encourage you to read this terrific article written by Barbara Solow, the associate director of Smith College Media Relations. She chronicles how a core group of our faculty have worked on developing a curriculum focused on the qualities described by Dan Goleman in his lecture last week as being critical to education: compassion, attention, self-regulation, and empathy.

The article is entitled, Frontline Design: Campus School Teachers Help Shape New Care Curriculum.

Lastly, on Friday morning we are staging a special lab school event. During the morning, a delegation of special guests will visit SCCS including Kathy McCartney, President of Smith College, her cabinet, key leaders of the Mind and Life Institute (the international organization that sponsored the Dalai Lama’s visit), and Rick Weissbourd, an acclaimed Harvard Professor who founded the Making Caring Common Project and has written an important book titled The Parents We Mean to Be. Professor Weissbourd was slated to be the Dalai Lama’s dialogue partner at the large lecture at Smith.  This will be an opportunity for our SCCS students and faculty to showcase and explain the nature of the work being done at SCCS.

Sincerely, Sam


September 20, 2015

Dear Campus School Community:

I promised Thursday at Parent Night that I would share a few key resources that would help our community learn more about the Dalai Lama and his efforts to advance an educational agenda focused on developing our individual and collective capacity for compassion and peace. His message -- that education can move positive change into the world-- resonates, as the headline in Thursday’s Gazette read, “HOT TICKET: Hordes line up to secure a spot to see the Dalai Lama.”  

At my remarks at Parent Night, I shared a story of how a group of 5th grade SCCS boys acted decisively to come to the aid of a wounded Canada goose on a soccer field. I described it as an act of compassionate action or “muscular compassion.” Yesterday I heard another story that I want to share about SCCS students enacting practices the Dalai Lama believes should be at the center of what schools aspire to do. In A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World, Dan Goleman describes how the Dalai Lama seeks to advance a view of education that would, “include basics of how the mind works, such as the dynamics of our emotions; a healthy regulation of emotional impulse and the cultivation of attention, empathy, and caring; learning to handle conflicts nonviolently; and a sense of oneness with humanity.”

His view is that education -- done carefully, thoughtfully and with attention to what it means to act ethically and with compassion-- we can take on the most vexing problems we face.

The second story of SCCS students living out this capacity for muscular compassion happened during recess.

A group of five third grade girls were playing in the outdoor adventure area above the playset when they must have disturbed a group of bees. Two of the girls were stung. What happened next was so touching to me.

The girls immediately recognized that one of the group who had not been stung was allergic to bees. They immediately surrounded her and kept their bodies between her and where they thought the bees were and edged their way to get help all the while protecting her.

Talk about compassion in action! Quick thinking, sensitive, decisive and tender!

On Thursday night, I shared a definition of compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” As with the story of the goose, these girls felt the potential for somebody else’s pain and then rather than just “feel” or “witness” they mobilized and acted as bravely as they could.

It’s a small but beautiful moment. Afterward I asked the girls about what they did. They responded, “She was allergic and so we protected her.” The Dalai Lama tells us that to face the many challenges of today’s world we must strengthen our capacity for “altruism and compassion,” but he adds, “It is not simply enough to be compassionate; We must act.”

We will be continuing to communicate information and resources all fall as we lead up to the event. Here are few resources that I invite you to explore with us as we dive into this event as a lab school:

  • New York Times science writer, Dan Goleman, recently published a book titled A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. Our faculty and staff read the book and we invite you to join us for a parent night on 10/14 that will include a book discussion group.  SCCS is featured in two sections: pg. 150 and pg. 186!

  • The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography. This book came to us through the recommendation of one of our 4th graders who discovered it at Lilly Library. I asked what he learned reading the book he told me, “I learned that the Dalai Lama believes in peacefulness and trying to make people live in peace. He wants to stop wars and teach people to have conversations about conflict and to make sure nobody is harmed physically, mentally, and emotionally.” What an endorsement for a book!

  • At our last faculty meeting, we watched and discussed the following video of the Dalai Lama talking with a high school students during a school visit in Vancouver. Watching the video was very poignant and powerful to us as it focused on the importance of patience as you form connections and relationships. In addition, you can learn more about his vision of education through the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.

  • As we have mentioned, one important way into deepening our learning from this experience will be to think about what it means to be a Nobel Peace Prize awardee. Why does somebody win this award? What is being recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize committee? What do the winners have in common with other Great Changers?

  • There is a picture book that we have ordered for all the classrooms. The Dalai Lama by Demi.  It’s a picture book biography of the Dalai Lama. Here is an excerpt from the School Library Journal book review: “Tibet is a timely topic. However, in telling the story of the political and religious leader of the country, Demi does not aim at trendiness, controversy, or even high drama. This picture-book biography speaks simply and respectfully of the history and the mission of the Dalai Lama. The author focuses on the search for, and childhood of, the 14th reincarnation of the "ocean of wisdom." As a boy, he was both mischievous and mysterious, with ordinary childlike traits as well as deep spirituality. His accession to temporal power coincided with Chinese Communist control over Tibet, and at the age of 24, in the face of the Cultural Revolution's "madness," the Dalai Lama went into permanent exile. The last pages stress his universal message of peace and his compassion for his people.”

We will do our best to keep on sharing information as we learn more.

Have a great weekend,


September 9, 2015

Dear Campus School Families:

Phew….now we all know what it would be like to start school if we lived in South Florida!

First days of school are tinged with big feelings. It’s a time to step into a new grade, meet a new teacher, and reconnect with friends. I think my favorite observation of what it means to start the new year was offered by a second grader during the end-of-first-day closing and reflection in the classroom. Here is my paraphrase of how the conversation unfolded:

Teacher: What were you feeling when school started?

Student: I think it was bittersweet?

Teacher: Bittersweet— that is an interesting word. What do you mean by that?

Student: It’s like bitter, but not bad, but we’re saying goodbye to summer and sweet because it’s starting something new and being with friends.

Teacher: What do you notice about the way the word bittersweet goes together?

Student: It’s a word that puts together two different opposite emotions.

What a wonderful way to describe a first day of school— a crazy quilt of big feelings for children, parents, and teachers: trepidation & excitement, anticipation & anxiety, readiness for the next challenge & tinges of regret for leaving behind things and people that mattered.

As I walked through school today, I saw so many wonderful moments that captured our community living into the promise of a new school year. In the spirit of celebrating the launch, here are some glimpses of the day:

  • A fourth grader staring with big eyes at our refinished gym floor. “Wow!” he said.

  • Kindergarten parents taking those hesitant steps down the hallway after leaving their child for their first day of elementary school.

  • A sixth grade class brainstorming answers to the question, “what does it mean to be an informed citizen?

  • First graders taking out special books they brought from home and reading with impressive seriousness of purpose.

  • Fourth graders re-introducing themselves to each other through games that are both playful and poignant.

  • A cohort of fifth graders staring intently at the wonderful art exhibit in the connector that showcases faces these 5th graders painted when they were in first grade.

  • Third graders standing in a circle learning to greet each other by saying each other’s  names and thinking about how their face shares important messages and meanings.

  • Groups of sixth graders engaging in a collaborative task of engineering a structure out of 20 spaghetti sticks so that their structure can support a marshmallow and then debriefing what they learned about themselves as thinkers and designers.
Each of these moments captures the efforts of a teacher working to launch the year. These first days are devoted to forming a community where ideas are taken seriously, where children feel safe and comfortable in the classroom, and where students and teachers establish routines and rituals that will anchor the important work of learning that will unfold all year.

Our first day came to a close with our whole community of students and teachers gathering in the gym to sing together and to feel the emergent power of our SCCS community. As part of this assembly, I shared a self-published book assembled seven years ago by SCCS 6th graders who are now seniors in high school. The book was called “This I Believe” and each sixth grader wrote an essay about a core value important to them. I shared a few of the values that students wrote about because they embody worthy hopes and dreams for our school: kindness is a healing force, working and trying hard yields surprises, and mistakes and stumbles are often the source of invention and strength. We ended with Cindy Naughton teaching us an uplifting song.

It’s wonderful to get the year started….



July 22, 2015

Dear Campus School Families,

A few weeks ago I drove past my old elementary school in Brooklyn. I was feeling nostalgic and I hadn’t been back to the old neighborhood for a long time. I had forgotten how massive P.S. 251 was. It’s a formidable four-story brick box of a thing and it couldn’t look anything more different than the aquamarine and white motif of our Campus School.  

Despite the obvious differences, I saw a placard with P.S. 251’s tagline, “Teaching individuals.” I don’t recall, but I suspect that schools didn't have “taglines” back in the early 1970s-- but “teaching individuals” would have been apt. My teachers-- and I still think of them with warmth and affection: Ms. Trachman, Ms. Kearney, and Ms. Bramnick knew me for who I was -- an itchy, curious kid who loved reading, anything to do with sports, and big projects.

Reflecting back on my old school and teachers brought to mind a commencement speech written by my graduate school adviser Eliot Eisner. It’s simply called “On Teaching” and my reminiscing about my former teachers brought to mind his observation: “The images of teachers past populate our minds and memories. They sit on our shoulders ready to identify infractions of one kind or another and to offer praise for work well done. Their lives live in yours and your life lives in theirs.”

I believe they live in our memories because they help us form and know ourselves. They encourage us to find our voice, to tangle with ideas that excite and fascinate, and to work through the shifting complexities of being an individual in a group. The success of schools-- like SCCS or PS 251-- hinges on those teachers who day-by-day stir children to encounter ideas, enlarge their capacities to think and feel,  and uncover a broader sense of what is possible. At SCCS, we are blessed to have a faculty that believes in and practices an art of teaching that I believe children experience as memorable and exciting.

In this spirit of appreciation for our teachers, I am enthused to share several staffing updates. We are delighted to welcome our new colleagues:

NANCY BRADY IS BACK! I am thrilled to announce that Nancy Brady will be returning next year as our interim librarian. Last year she spent a wonderful year with her grandchildren and went on several travel adventures with her husband, John Brady, who is a professor of geology at Smith. Once Jenny-Kate left for her new job, we launched a search, but simultaneously called to find out if Nancy missed her old routines. We are excited to have her back for the year.

INTRODUCING JOE GOLOSSI: We had some remarkable candidates for our 6th grade search, but Joe Golossi really captivated the committee in his interview and model lesson. He and his family will be moving to Western Massachusetts from New Jersey where he has taught for the past 11 years. Joe’s last job was as a sixth grade teacher at South Orange Middle School. Prior to to his time in South Orange, Joe worked at an innovative Bank Street infused public charter school in Hoboken, NJ. Joe has also worked as a writing instructor at Rutgers University.  Joe graduated from Bowling Green University in Ohio and has a master’s degree in history from Cleveland State.

INTRODUCING KERRI SIMONELLI: We are delighted to announce that Kerri Simonelli will be joining our front office team! Kerri currently serves as the assistant coordinator of the Northampton Parents Center. Aside from her experience as an administrative assistant, Kerri has worked in a variety of roles in education from serving as an active parent volunteer at the Hilltown Cooperative Charter School to teaching elementary school in Sunderland and Burlington, VT. All of us who know Kerri from her many roles in the local educational community, are so excited that she will be joining our SCCS community.

GINA COWLEY-MARY PAT SCHMALZ: We are excited to announce that Gina and Mary Pat will work together as co-teachers in Group H. Gina has worked with Maureen and me to research a variety of different job-share structures. Based on what we have learned from talking with people and from our research, we have put together what we think is an exciting model for next year. Mary Pat has worked in Gina’s room for the last two years. She has an undergraduate degree from Smith College in Education and Child Study and is beginning to work on her master’s degree in reading.

JESS WATKINS RETURNS: We are excited to welcome Jess Watkins back to SCCS.   Last year Jess worked as a first-grade teacher in Fitzwilliam, NH; this year Jess will be working as the first-grade aide with Gina Cowley and Mary Pat Schmalz. Jess graduated from Smith as an Education and Child Study Major and did her student teaching with Gina and Mary Pat in first grade. Prior to student teaching, she worked for three years at SCCS as an America Reads tutor and provided support for children through a guided reading curriculum. We are excited to reassemble the team!




May 15, 2015

Dear Campus School Families:

At the end of Grandparent and Special Elder’s Day, a grandmother of one of our students stopped me to share how much she enjoyed visiting the classroom and touring the school and seeing all the fascinating projects exhibited on our bulletin boards. She admitted, with a gleam in her eye, that she had snuck into some of the other classrooms to “scope out” what was happening around the school. She then turned to me and said, “You said you were a lab school. What does that mean?”

It’s a question I often get asked and I launched into explaining how as a “lab school” we prepare teachers (like a teaching hospital prepares doctors and nurses) and also engage in a version of educational research and development (R&D). I then recounted a story about a series of projects that have unfolded across the year that I think evoke our lab school aspirations:

Earlier this year, I received an email from Dan Goleman -- the best selling author of the book Emotional Intelligence and a former science writer for the New York Times-- asking if he could come visit the Campus School and sit in on some classes. I was thrilled; Goleman’s work has had a profound international impact and his ideas about the role of emotion, attention, and focus have spurred important advances in how educators think and develop curriculum around critical capacities like self-awareness, emotional regulation, and attentional management.

Goleman came to SCCS and observed two classroom lessons as part of a project that a number of our faculty have undertaken over the last two years called A Call to Care. The story of how our SCCS teachers became the central contributors in this project illustrates what it means to be a lab school for Smith College.

The story begins in 2013 when I received an invitation by the Mind and Life Institute (MLI) to join an advisory board of scholars on a project seeking to design school curriculum focused on promoting care, compassion, altruism, and community through education. MLI is an organization that seeks to build a scientific understanding of the mind and human behavior through supporting research and convening interdisciplinary dialogue and projects between scientists, humanists, and philosophers from an array of Western and contemplative traditions. The chair of the advisory board was Diana Chapman Walsh -- the former president of Wellesley and the Norman Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and somebody whom I had worked with on several writing projects.

The Advisory Board convened in Boston in August of 2013. The agenda included presentations by eminent neuroscientists that described new research highlighting connections between our emotional states and their influence on aspects of cognition such as learning, attention, memory, decision making, and social functioning. Towards the middle of the retreat, I was having lunch with the two other participants who have roots in K-12 education. Diana Chapman Walsh, who was one of the lead facilitators, asked for our impressions. 

We conveyed that the content of the conversations and presentations was fascinating; however, we raised a concern. We pointed out that while the charge of the Advisory Board was to develop a program that was to be implemented in schools by teachers, the absence of teachers on the advisory board was glaringly conspicuous.

Diana listened and responded, “Do you know some teachers that could help move this work forward?” This was the perfect opening for me to share about SCCS and I described the Campus School’s unique mission as a lab school. I also described how cultivating compassion, generosity, and thoughtful engagement between children lives in the primal DNA of SCCS. I also emphasized how SCCS teachers have honed the capacity to dissect and explicate practice because their ongoing work with novice teachers entails having to talk through and explain dimensions of teaching that are often understood as tacit or inexplicable.

The relationship picked up momentum when Brooks Dodson Lavelle, the Call to Care project director, led a portion of our end-of-summer faculty retreat at the MacLeish Field Station in Whately. She was inspired by her time with our teachers and began to facilitate weekly reflection sessions at the school. At the same time, a group of our teachers began to participate in ongoing workshops and discussions with key members of MLI.

What has unfolded over the last two years has been an extraordinary example of the school serving the larger profession as an incubator of ideas. A group of SCCS teachers has passionately engaged with this work. They have been Mind and Life’s “design team” for the conceptualizing and writing of the Call to Care curriculum, which is already being piloted internationally. 

The introduction to the draft of the curriculum describes it as, “a model for educators and students to nurture their capacity for care, while remaining sensitive to the developmental needs of the person. The overarching goal is to promote caring relationships. The program benefits from an interdisciplinary approach incorporating insights from neuroscience, psychology, education, and contemplative traditions in its critical analysis and reformulation of care as the foundation of ethical behavior and well being.”

Since I am so proud of our teachers and the work that they have done, I can’t help but quote from the acknowledgements of the guide:

"This development of this guide was led by Kathryn Byrnes, Education Program Officer at the MLI Institute  in collaboration with the team of educators from the Smith College Campus School in Northampton Massachusetts. We would like to give special thanks to the members of that group: Chrissy Colon Bradt, Emily Endris, Paul Matylas, Robbie Murphy, and Lesley Smith.” (Bob Hepner was also involved).

Let me end by returning to Dan Goleman’s visit at the school. The book he was working on when he visited is titled a Force for Good. The book chronicles the efforts of the Dalai Lama to initiate a movement that serves as a counterforce to a world “troubled by the persistence of destruction and injustice, corruption and grinding inequality.” Goleman, who has worked closely with the Dalai Lama since the 1980s wrote this book to detail the Dalai Lama’s vision to “consider promising possibilities beyond the dark and dismal media messages we get daily.” 

Goleman examines ideas such as what it means to live with “emotional hygiene,” which entails managing our own minds and emotions thus lessening the power of destructive emotions. He explores the Dalai Lama’s idea of pursuing scientific basis for understanding what it means to act with compassion and kindness and to translate the science of positive action into an education of the heart. A vision of education that will help students “cultivate tools for self-mastery and caring for lives in keeping with these human values.” (To learn more read this Harvard Business Review article on the book)

Dan Goleman had heard about the work SCCS teachers were doing around the Call to Care curriculum and he visited SCCS to learn more about our efforts. He visited two classes and spent a considerable amount of time talking with us. SCCS is featured in two chapters. Heal the Earth is a chapter where he describes a lesson taught by Robbie Murphy where children engage in a lesson on our food systems while thinking deeply with each other about the human and ecological implications of growing and moving food across global networks. The process of untangling this ‘hidden journey’ of a clementine involved deploying critical thought, but also nuanced processes of noticing, focus, empathy, and feeling.

A second lesson is featured in a chapter titled Educate the Heart and it describes Emily Endris’ fifth grade class engaging in a meeting where they share nuanced “noticings” of each other. It’s a lesson designed to build students capacity to notice, attend to relationships, and then to connect with others.

Here is Dan Goleman’s section on spending time in our SCCS classrooms:

It was a cloudy chilly December day at the Smith College Campus School, in Northampton, Massachusetts, when Robbie Murphy brought a small crate of clementines to share with her second graders. Each year, around when the nights drop to freezing, these easy to peel seedless tangerines appear in stores there.

A favored delicacy locally, the clementines sparked the buzz of excitement, even cheers, in the seven and eight-year-olds, as they gathered into a circle on the floor. Ms. Murphy asked, “these don’t grow around here--how did they get here?”

The students brainstorm the steps those clementines might have taken on their journey: someone grew them on a farm, them, place them in the box, put stickers on it, and sent them to the store where their teacher got them.

She took out a globe  and show the students were to find the clementines origin-- Morocco-- asking,” How many people did it take to bring this Clementine into our lives?”

The class came up with this list: farmer, papers, box builder, truck driver, but her plane pilot, store clerks – and then truck makers, bookmakers, playmakers, store builders, then people who get the fuel for those trucks, boats, airplanes, and the makers of this deal for those vehicles

How many people altogether?  Guesses ranged from 20 to hundreds.

“There’s a really big idea here,” the teacher said. “It takes a lot of people to get a clementine to Northampton in December.”

Another big idea: Ms. Murphy reminded of the class of how “there’s sunshine in the Clementine,” just like “there’s a cloud in a piece of paper” – that is, it takes water to manufacture the pulp for paper – and that “everything in the world is connected.”  These seven and eight-year-olds  were getting glimpses of how the Earth’s natural systems entwine with the tentacles of the global supply chain.

Ms. Murphy passed around the clementines to each kid had one, then led them through  several mindful steps:  “Peel it, smell it, look carefully at all its parts and how beautiful that fruit is. Give all your attention to the clementine.”

The first lab school was founded by the great American philosopher John Dewey at the University of Chicago in 1894. His vision of the school was for it to be a laboratory to examine and experiment with pedagogies that would connect to a child’s “native tendencies of curiosity, love of active occupation, and desire for association and mutual exchange.” This has been the spirit of the Call to Care project.


April 6, 2015

Dear Campus School Families:

I think my favorite moment of the week was on the glorious spring day we had on Thursday. It was about 11:30 when two classes sprung from the doors and headed down the little hill towards our field. They bounded down the hill and commenced running, playing, jumping, and just reveling in having unstructured time to move, be with their friends, and enjoy the promise of spring. As they ran past me, I couldn’t help being reminded of a research statement I just read by the American Association of Pediatrics titled “The Critical Role of Recess in School.” The report concluded, "Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.” As the herd of fourth graders chortled past, it also represents a time for children to feel that silly sense of joy and delight. At SCCS children experience “rigorous cognitive” challenge in our classrooms and as they swarmed past me, I remember that refrain… “Work hard; Play hard.” It’s plausible that we can say that at SCCS children think hard, invent hard, sing hard, create hard, design hard, imagine hard-- and, yes, we provide time to “play hard!”

A few other glimpses of life at SCCS this week Campus School:

JOIN US FOR SCCS PARENT NIGHT @ THE MUSEUM: As part of our curriculum units on the study of Colonial America, our fifth graders walked over to the Smith College Museum of Art to study John Singleton Copley’s formal portrait of the Honorable John Erving and John Smibert’s Mrs. John Erving. SCCS students worked with the SCMA museum educators and Bob Hepner to unpack the story of the portraits through a process called Visual Thinking Strategies. Developed by Abigail Housen, a cognitive psychologist who studies aesthetic experience, and Philip Yenawine, a prominent museum educator,  Visual Thinking Strategies is an approach to engaging with art that guides a group through a structured process of observation, interpretation, and discussion. It’s a pretty powerful experience to watch a group of children build a complex interpretation of a work of art by sharing their insights and improving on each other’s ideas. As Abigail Housen says about the process, "We have come to believe that discussions of art may be one of the most fertile grounds for teaching critical thinking skills precisely because there is no one right answer."

Importantly— you too can experience what your children do at the museum by participating in a special Night at the SC Museum for SCCS parents on April 17th (you should have received an email invitation-- PLEASE RSVP). It’s a pretty exciting and intellectually invigorating experience to engage in a VTS. Every year that I teach at Smith, I bring my graduate students for a VTS workshop with the museum staff. They put us through a few encounters and discussions with some art pieces at the museum, and then they teach some of the anchoring ideas and principles of the pedagogy. VTS become a powerful framework for engaging and talking about all kinds of objects and art forms. It will be a special SCCS Adult session at a world-class art museum. I hope you can join us!

SCCS ENGINEERS AND ARCHITECTS: Our Group O 6th graders worked with engineering professor Susan Voss and Smith’s engineering department to design, sketch, and then transfer their blueprints to AutoCAD, which is the industry-standard software used by architects and engineers to produce 2D and 3D designs. “We started by thinking about the math of a building,” said one of the sixth grade students. “We thought about angles and shapes and then sketched our houses, translated our design onto graph paper where we had to figure out about proportion, and then used the AutoCad program.” Once students created the AutoCad files, the designs were printed using a special laser printer that cuts shapes for 3-D models. Our sixth graders then assembled the models. “I felt like an architect! It’s cool to figure out how all the pieces fit together.” To see some pictures of our budding engineer/architects.

PRINCE AND THE PAUPER: Under Ms. Naughton’s direction and with indefatigable support of Mr. Matylas and our SC student teacher Jenny Estes, Group Y put on a rousing performance. I am always inspired seeing our students work together to put on such a sophisticated production. The play represents an achievement of immense collaboration and individual accomplishment.

Last year, I reflected on what children can learn from being engaged in drama and theater. In the afterglow of yesterday’s performance, I found it useful to recall all the significant life capacities that are learned in the course of doing drama:

Drama provides a communal experience in getting something done. It involves producing something that requires work, discipline, teamwork and commitment.

Drama provides a distinctive opportunity to work with thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and emotions. Drama provides an opportunity to ‘try on’ new identities, and take safe risks through playing different roles and multiple identities.

Performance provides practice in public speaking, thinking on your feet, and improvising and staying cool when a mistake is made.

Drama provides opportunity to memorize:

And so, I end with an odd observation about the challenge children face memorizing their lines. In talking with our 5th graders, almost all of them named that as one of the significant accomplishments of their work. Their reflections reminded me of a wonderful NY Times essay on the virtues of memorizing poetry. It’s a fun piece…

Have a great holiday weekend,



March 13, 2015

Dear Campus School Families:

It was 15 degrees this morning, and with freezing rain predicted for tomorrow, the notion of Spring Break remains a “state of mind” for the moment. Despite the winter weather, the Smith College Campus buzzes with students getting ready to head home or on “spring break” adventures.

The sync between our school schedule and the Smith College schedule is another reminder to me of our enmeshment with the College. We are, in the most fundamental way, an elementary school nested within a dynamic liberal arts college. This relationship shapes much of our identity, our curriculum, and the everyday experiences of our children at SCCS. As I heard Marlene Musante say on a tour to a prospective family, Smith College is our extended classroom and playground.” In that spirit, here are some glimpses of SCCS “learning and playing” at Smith College this week:

Earlier this week Our kindergartners walked over to the Spring Bulb Show at the Botanic Garden. They spent the morning studying bulbs and plant life as part of their year long investigation of “life cycles.” In preparation for their time at the botanic gardens they did a “lab in the classroom” with Gabby Immerman— a parent who works at the botanical garden, who prepared them for the visit. The Smith Botanic Garden is a special place that draws visitors from all over the world. It’s a destination and our students help advance the mission of the botanic garden as a place that is a "collection of plants that are scientifically ordered and maintained, documented, and labeled, for public education, research, conservation, and enjoyment." The bright and beautiful colors of the Bulb Show inspires dreams of spring and this year’s show draws inspirations from Monet’s gardens in Giverney.

Our K-2 students joined a Smith College dance class that prepared an interactive concert for our classes, which was held in the Davis Ballroom. The concert involved a mélange of styles from traditional African, modern, and hip hop dance, and concluded with a Salsa concert. Smith students taught our students some key movements, then led an interactive dance. The finale involved all the Campus School teachers being taught the salsa! As one of our first graders said with a big smile, “My favorite part was seeing the teachers dancing!”

The Smith College Art Museum is launching a special exhibit of the German artist Mary Bauermeister. The exhibit showcases signature optical lens boxes, assemblages, stone reliefs, drawings, and other works. Our second grade teachers will be participating in a special tour of the exhibit and then working with Gina Hall, the Associate Educator for School and Family Programs, to develop connections for our second graders which will take place once we return from break.

Our third grade is preparing to visit the geosciences lab at the College and work with the sedimentation tank . The organizing theme of the third grade curriculum is focused on rivers. The visit to the laboratory will involve working with equipment designed to model what happens when you change variables associated with the flow of a river. Our students will be able to view, for example, what happens to the substrate of the river bed when you change flow rate or the slope of the riverbed. They will collect data and develop theories with the evidence.

The fourth grade is launching their curriculum study of Ancient Rome. Our fourth graders typically meet with Smith professors from the history and classics department. This year classics Professor Scott Bradbury (a former SCCS parent) also reached out to SCCS to extend an invitation for our students to visit a special and unique collection of Roman and Greek artifacts at The Van Buren Antiquities Collection that resides in the Department of Classical Languages and Literatures at Smith College. The collection includes 135 rare and special Greek and Roman artifacts: vases, cups, marbles, terra-cotta figurines, and bronze ware. Professor Bradbury is excited to share this extraordinary resource housed in a special seminar room.

Our 5th grade has a number of exciting of Smith College collaborations unfolding. A senior engineering student doing a capstone bio-engineering project has started working with 5th and 6th graders. Working with Professor Glenn Ellis from the Engineering Department her project is focused on identifying materials that could serve to replace a ruptured Achilles tendon. Our students will be working with her to investigate materials and evaluating their qualities of strength, flexibility/brittleness and energy potential.  After break the fifth grade will also beginning a lunchtime speaker series “Celebrity Scientists.”  The speaker series will feature Smith scientists and engineers being interviewed by our fifth graders about their work and how science was a part of their childhood.

The Mortimer Rare Book Room is a special place on the Smith Campus. Located on the third floor of Nielsen Library the room houses the college's rare books and literary manuscripts.  Its varied holding of rare manuscripts includes the collected works of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. Our students will visit as a part of their exploration of the work of historians.

Our sixth graders are working on a six-week adolescent fiction project with 35 Smith College students taking EDC 342: Growing Up American. The project involves Smith students and 6th graders forming a book group. The Smith students, many of whom are planning to become teachers, write a lesson plan and develop discussion questions for the book discussions. As one Smith student told me, “I love talking about the books with the Campus School students. The conversations just flow and they are such good thinkers and discussers. I am learning so much.”

Phew… that is just a small slice of SCCS and how Smith College flows through how we learn and play everyday at school…..

Have a great Spring Break!



January 31, 2015

Opera at the Campus School

Dear Campus School Families:

So everyday I experience many things at the school that I wish that I could share with families, parents, Smith College students and others. The Campus School-- and schools in general-- are places where little surprises, aha moments, encounters of learning and discovery are routine occurrences. These moments are what makes schools such special places.

On Friday, I think of all us experienced a moment that was operatic in scale. In fact, it was a real, live and genuine opera. The Campus School chorus and the Smith College Music department collaborated on staging the opera “Araboolies on Liberty Street” that was also composed by Smith professor Ron Perera. Our 55 SCCS chorus students performed alongside the actors and singers, who were Smith students. The rest of the school studied the opera in music class and participated in the performance by making a wonderous collection of hats.

Anyway, in the spirit of wanting to share the thrill with families-- I put together a video that includes interviews with Cindy Naughton, Jonathan Hirsch-- the director of the Smith orchestra and chorus, and Ron Perera, the composer of Araboolies and a Smith professor. Be forewarned-- I’m a novice with these technologies, but I’m willing to step out into my “learning edge” (that is what our third graders call that scary space beyond where we feel confident and comfortable) and share a mashup of shaky film footage, bad photos, and etc…

Most importantly, Araboolies will be performed at 4 pm today (Saturday, January 31st) at Sage Hall on the Smith Campus.

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKmHBTvL8Ks

Happy Super Bowl & Opera Weekend,


January 23, 2015

Dear Campus School Families:

As I was listening to NPR Monday morning, I heard a powerful radio story assembled in a school: “What Does Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy Look Like To A 5-Year-Old?”

As I listened, I naturally started to reflect on how students at the Campus School might think about Martin Luther King and his legacy. My initial thoughts turned to the community assembly we have each year on the Friday before MLK Day.  It’s a poignant assembly that is planned each year by the faculty. This year, teachers chose to focus on Dr. King’s words of compassion and what it means to hear and imagine another’s perspective. They focused on elements of Dr. King’s words, “Compassion and nonviolence help us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear their questions, to know their assessment of ourselves.” 

One of the moving traditions of the assembly is the memorization and recitation of sections of the  “I Have a Dream Speech” by our 3rd-6th grades. In addition, each grade sings a meaningful song to the rest of the community such as “This Little Light of Mine”, which was performed by the first grade.  While the assembly was moving and memorable,  I also thought of an event that occurred about a month ago which provided a meaningful glimpse into how Campus School students come to understand elements of Dr. King’s message.

Right before the winter holiday break our chorus performed at the Smith College Campus Center. The 60+ members of the SCCS chorus (4th, 5th and 6th graders) sing from the upper mezzanine. From up on high, their voices fill the Campus Center almost as if they were in a cathedral.

During their performance a group of Smith students staged a peaceful demonstration in protest of the events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, NYC. The SCCS students walked past the demonstrating Smith students on their way out of the Campus Center.

When we returned to the Campus School, we brought the group into the music room. We piled in — 60 plus students and a group of teachers — and we debriefed and explained that Smith students were staging a peaceful protest as part of a larger national movement occurring on campuses and communities across the country. After explaining the events, we engaged in a discussion:

How did you feel seeing the demonstration?
What questions do you have?
Why do you think Smith students organized a demonstration?

The conversation that ensued was poignant. Our students described feeling “unsettled,” “confused,” and “uncertain about what was happening.” Much of the initial reflections offered by students conveyed their own emotional response at being present during a protest. As the conversation continued, one student said, “It reminded me of when we studied the Montgomery Bus Boycott in second grade.” This drew emphatic nods of agreement. Another student described, “how the protests were similar to what they were studying about in child labor movement.” She was referring to the 6th grade study of the Industrial Age. Another student said that the song the protesters were singing was the same song that they had learned in music class. Another student commented on how it reminded them of the Civil Rights Movement. This comment set in motion many other comments on the connection of the current protest to the struggle for Civil Rights, equality and social justice.

My takeaway at the time was that over the years SCCS students have developed a way to understand the protest at the Campus Center in a broader way. They clearly felt the raw, intense emotion, but upon reflection they started to analyze and interpret the protest within a framework. It’s a mode of thinking that historians call contextualization.  Historians contextualize events by studying them as unique occurrences that unfold within a specific time and place, but also as events nested within a historical time period.

In thinking about how students were able to make this important connection, I was reminded of a particularly influential theory, that of the "spiral curriculum", put forward by the eminent psychologist Jerome Bruner. Bruner hypothesized that "any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child and any stage of development." In other words, children can understand a broad and complex range of material as long as it’s presented in a developmentally appropriate way. This approach to thinking about childrens’ minds resulted in Bruner proposing what he described as a “spiral curriculum”. The spiral curriculum entails identifying key and foundational ideas that get taught at a simplified level to younger children and then increase in complexity as children get older. It’s a process of engaging with what Bruner would describe as “recurrent regularities.”

When our older students worked to make sense of the protest at the Campus Center it was the spiral curriculum in play. Here is a short synopsis of how the Campus School curriculum spirals around the ideas important to social justice:

Kindergarten students, over a long stretch of time, read a variety of books such as the Caldecott award-winning Martin’s Big Words that lift up the timeless wisdom of Dr. King’s speeches such as “Love is the key to the problems of the world.” Our kindergartners also study iconic photos and create a poster to illustrate Dr. King’s pronouncement that we, regardless of race and difference, “will walk hand in hand.”

n first grade our students do an in-depth study of “Great Changers” and write poetic biographies of these men and women who have worked towards social change through non violence. In addition, they work with black fine-line markers, oil crayons, and cut-paper to create portraits of their great changer (you can see the exhibit on the bulletin board in front of the computer lab). For example, one first grader wrote a poem about Rosa Parks titled “As Brave as a Knight.”

Our second graders travel in the spiral curriculum from “Great Changers” to what it means to achieve “Great Change.” They begin the study of great change by connecting to the background knowledge they gained in first grade through the question: “What makes someone a great changer?” Great changers are “focused, daring, cooperative, and if something is unfair, they strive to change that.” They then embark on an in-depth study of the Montgomery Bus Boycott with a focus on understanding how individuals band together to shape great change in the world.

In third grade, our students study a series of biographical picture books of those involved in social change and the Civil Rights Movement. They also take on the conceptual and critical study of stereotyping, segregation, prejudice, and discrimination. The implications of these terms get teased out during discussions of personal experience and through the study of books like Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches.

Our fourth grade advances the work done in third grade by undertaking a detailed study of African-American biographies in ways that allow students to “step into the experience” of others and understand how segregation and prejudice shaped the daily lives and dreams of those they read about in their biographies. They also consider why and how different individuals come to embrace particular approaches of protest and social change. For example, how did Booker T. Washington’s view of social change differ from W.E.B. DuBois’? Why did Martin Luther King approach social change differently from Malcolm X? As one student asked in a recent discussion about how different individuals mobilized for social change, “What would cause you to change your mind?”

Our fifth grade engages ideas at the heart of what it means to be a community: what does it mean to be a good citizen? How does one contribute to a community and how do people cooperate? What connects us despite our differences? How do communities function together despite conflict?

In sixth grade, students delve deeply into the study of social movements that seek to redress societal inequities and injustices. Students engage in an in-depth exploration of child labor and the conditions of work and life during the Industrial Revolution. They study current events and critically examine events to discern the power dynamics in play and ask questions about who benefits from social and economic circumstance and who is marginalized. They think about fairness, equity and they identify projects where their ingenuity, resourcefulness and passion can contribute a solution. For example, Group O launched a wonderfully successful coat drive to benefit children from the North End of Springfield. You can read about their work in this article from the Springfield Republican. Group T will be holding a skateathon this weekend to raise money to support the buying of goats for a project in Haiti that they learned about through a guest speaker in their classroom.

As the NPR story reported Martin Luther King’s legacy will look and feel different to children as they move spiral-like through a curriculum. Each learning experience builds upon the next in a way that stretches them and challenges them to expand how they understand this complex challenge of our day.

Perhaps the best way to end is to share how we concluded our MLK Assembly. Ms. Naughton led the chorus in a rousing rendition of the African-American spiritual, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.” The original lyrics speak about being ready for next steps because “the work” is almost finished.

Keep your lamps trimmed and burning, keep your lamps trimmed and burning, keep your lamps trimmed and burning, for the work is almost done.

In recognition of the ongoing events that have galvanized so many to social action, the chorus amended the last line to, "there’s still much work to be done."

Here is a link to a video of the SCCS Chorus performing: Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning



November 14, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

Well, it’s been just about a week since the book fair ended, but the book fair buzz continues. I keep on hearing stories and all around SCCS you see our students hauling the titles they picked up at our Book Fair. And so-- in the spirit of stories and book lists -- here are 10 snippets celebrating the SCCS Book Fair 2014

#1 ON THE SCCS BOOK FAIR BEST SELLER LIST: No surprise that a book focused on big, brave, imaginative ideas that stretch and change inner and outer worlds perches atop the SCCS charts. What do you do with an idea? by Kobi Yamada is a book that asks, “What do you do with an idea? Especially an idea that’s different or daring, or just a little wild?” At the Campus School I can tell you what happens to an idea: it starts inside as a noticing or an observation, then it gets written down or drawn or sung and then grows and morphs, and then it gets shared with a small group that pushes and tugs and pokes at it, and then it gets stretched and tweaked some more before it winds up written down on chart paper and hung on the wall so that it becomes part of shared knowledge of the community. And so the book ends, “I don’t know how to describe it, but it went from being here to being everywhere. It wasn’t just part of me anymore. . . it was now a part of everything. And then, I realized what you do with an idea… You change the world.” Makes sense to me!

IF ALISON BROWN WAS MAROONED ON A DESERT ISLAND: A book fair tradition is the talk given by Alison Brown that highlights the best new books in the children’s book landscape from picture books to young adult books. Alison describes dozens of books and makes each one sound wildly appealing and distinct. One is left feeling dazzled by her excitement for books and story. It can also feel as one should cloister up and just read for months. In an effort to winnow down the options, I challenged her to identify those three books she would bring with her if she was marooned on a remote island. She wrote me that it was hard to choose, but here were her three choices!

What Do You Do with an Idea? Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom, because it's a brilliant and beautiful book about the power of ideas and the value of believing in oneself. I'd read it any time I despaired that I might never come up with an idea good enough to launch me off the island!

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, because it's a fun, inventive mystery that would keep my spirits up and keep my mind active.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, because I've read it three times and am not yet tired of it, and because it would fill my head with poetry, give my days some rhythm, and keep me in touch with the full range of human emotions, even in the absence of other people.

FISCAL LITERACY: Each classroom makes a trip to the Book Fair and many children bring money to buy their favorite titles. The moment of purchase is a high stakes decision or as Jan Szymaszek describes, “Watching children make book buying decisions is a story of agony and ecstasy. They have just this much money and they have to choose.” She then went on tell the story of watching a boy anguish between a graphic novel and a soccer book. She describes the drama of the decision, “He had both in his hands; he would touch them,  look longingly through each book-- put on one back and then the other, count his money, do mental calculations, and then… I never heard what book he bought, but what a moment of choosing between two passions and developing book taste.”

DRAGON TRIVIA: What is the story of that floppy-eared, puffy-cheeked, paper-gobbling dragon? I have long loved the SCCS Book Fair Dragon-- Book Wyrm-- Draconis evolutionis. It emblazons our placards and tote bags.  I always wondered about the story of the dragon and when I asked around everybody told me to go right to the source --so I did! Last Friday morning at morning dropoff I caught up with Tony Diterlizzi and asked him about Book Wyrm’s lineage. Here is what I learned:  The dragon’s lineage dates back to 2004 when Tony was asked by the Book Fair Committee to sketch a creature to advertise the book fair. He told me that this was right in the beginning of working on the Spiderwick Chronicles and the book committee asked him for something “fun and fantastical.” He told me, “I like dragons and kids love dragons because they are fun and imaginative. You can imagine a dragon doing anything.”

MARSHMALLOW EFFECT CAMPUS SCHOOL STYLE: You probably have heard about the iconic marshmallow study done by Walter Mischel. It’s the study where 4-year old children at Stanford University’s laboratory nursery school were taken to what is called the “surprise room” and offered a marshmallow. The researcher would place enticing marshmallow in front of the child and say, "You can have this one marshmallow any time you want it, but if you don't eat it and wait until I return, then you can have two." The researcher then left the room for 15 minutes. It’s been talked and written about as the “ultimate test” of self regulation and one’s capacity to delay gratification. (Check out the youtube library of children being given versions of the test) or see Dr. Mischel being interviewed by Charlie Rose.  Dr. Mischel uses this language: “I compared the effects of external and cognitive distraction from reward objects on the length of time which Ss waited for a preferred delayed reward before forfeiting it for a less preferred immediate one.”

So the book fair has it’s own quirky version of the marshmallow study. At the book fair when a title is sold so that there is only one book left, you can’t buy the book and walk out with it. You bring the title to the checkout and you place an order online that will be delivered in about 2-3 days. One of the “observed behaviors” at the book fair was the number of children that would pick up the desired “last title” agonize and fret and then either go for the special order or meander along to find one that would provide the instant gratification of reading in the moment! It’s gobble the book in the moment or delay gratification?

A PICTURE IS WORTH A 1,000 WORDS: We’ve all heard that “old saw” more than once. At Professor Susan Etheredge’s lecture on Wednesday night of Book Fair week, she shared a research-based approach that engages a viewer in deep and meaningful talk about visual art. Visual Thinking Strategy approach is a process by which a group gathers in front of a piece of art or an illustration in a children’s book and build meaning together through discussion. Susan presented and modeled the approach as a way to invite discussion with children while reading a picture book. If you’re interested, the VTS website is a potpourri of resources including videos of the approach  in action. I also include the questions the organization has developed from their research:

Teachers/parents are asked to use three open-ended questions:

What's going on in this picture?

What do you see that makes you say that?

What more can we find?

3 Facilitation Techniques:

Paraphrase comments neutrally

Point at the area being discussed

Linking and framing student comments

Children are asked to:

Look carefully at works of art

Talk about what they observe

Back up their ideas with evidence

Listen to and consider the views of others

Discuss many possible interpretations

THINK! PLAY! LOVE: THE SCCS LIBRARIAN GOES ‘OLD SCHOOL’: In the beginning, before books and libraries and Audible and Kindle-- there was oral storytelling. JennyKate Marble, the SCCS librarian, presented a workshop on the power of oral storytelling with children. Even though she loves books, she believes in the enduring power of the spoken word, “I was hoping to encourage parents to think about sharing stories with their children in a broader sense. For some kids-- sitting and listening to an adult read a book is challenging; however, when I tell a story orally I often don’t see or feel the same difficulty. The juicy bit of oral storytelling is the immediacy. Oral stories takes the “media” out and leaves the story.”  JennyKate’s modeled a story in her presentation and then reflected afterward, “We worry about media use nowadays, but books were the original media. Storytelling is more intimate. You see their faces Look in their eyes. I encourage parents to tell their own stories. It’s not that you have to memorize a folk tale, but talking about their day as a gift and material for stories.”

BOOKS & MUSEUMS: SCCS PARTNERS WITH THE SMITH COLLEGE MUSEUM OF ART. The book fair launched with SCCS fourth and fifth graders reading fairy tales and fractured fairy tales as part of the museum’s Family Day activities. We had students reading Greek myths in the classical callery, a student reading “The Raven” creation myth in the artist-designed men’s bathroom (no really check it out), Princesses are NOT Quitters in the special gallery exhibit about queens and art, Ninja Red Riding Hood in front of a Buddha sculpture, and more.

CAMPUS SCHOOL AUTHORS: The book fair list included a number of books from Campus School parent authors. Emily Neuberger’s Show me a Story: 40 Craft Prpojects and activities to Spark Children’s Storytelling. Keri Smith’s --Wreck this Journal, The Imaginary World of ….., and Your Name Here: The Pocket Scavenger.Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Adventures of Luke Sywalker-- Jedi Knight & Angela DiTerlizzi’s Some Bugs.

GRAPHIC NOVELS: TOPPING THE READER CHARTS: Four of the top 15 sellers in the book fair were graphic novels. I found this surprising and so I started to ask some questions and learn more about the surge in graphic texts being published for both young and adult readers. A recent Publishers Weekly article titled “How Graphic Novels is Becoming the Hottest Section in the Library” describes how children and young adults are gravitating towards the genre. One librarian quoted in the article said, that in her library only 3% of the collection are graphic books, but 30% of the circulation. One of the most intriguing statistics in the article,  “Even at academic libraries, graphic novels are in demand. ‘Graphic novels are the most frequently requested material in our Ivy League request system,’ says Karen Green, librarian for ancient and medieval history and graphic novel selector at Columbia University.”

Many of the articles I read highlighted how children enjoy the hybrid forms of storytelling. One interesting position was offered by the American Library Association Journal in a special issue called, “Getting to Know Graphic Novels.” The editors made the case that graphic novels not only engage readers, but they may lead to important learning.  “Children and teens are visually oriented now more than ever, thanks to television, computers, and cell phones. Graphic novels and comics are a perfect complement to this trend. They encourage reading for pleasure and are a great way to entice reluctant readers...Graphic novels can also help teach story structure and promote understanding of character development and setting for advanced readers.”    This way of thinking about graphic novels followed how several of the teachers at the Campus School have come to think. JennyKate Marble said, “Graphic books are popular and has to do with their immediacy. A graphic novel is multidimensional and the setting part is the visual. It doesn’t have to be explained and unlocked through decoding the visual description. We’re inundated by images. Our world is more annotated and visual and learning to read graphic books can help build understanding.” Likewise Jan Szymaszek offered an interesting observation about how when she asks her third grade readers what appeals to them about graphic novels, they explain that they like to read them because it’s easier to tell who is talking in a book. It’s a fascinating observation and something I would like to learn more about.

This was the graphic novel that sold the best:  Jedi Academy Return of the Padawan Book 2 by Jeff Brown. The second best selling graphic novel was SISTERS by Raina Telgemeier.

THANK YOU-- SO MUCH, TO ALL THE PARENT VOLUNTEERS: Lastly-- I think I speak for all the students and teachers at the school in saying thank you to the Book Fair Committee for organizing a wonderful event that celebrated all the wonder, imagination, and ideas that live in great books. And I would like to especially recognize Kate Kruckemeyer for chairing the committee.



October 24, 2014

Dear Campus School Families

You know that old cliche and joke -- “it’s not rocket science.”  Well,  I experienced a version of it a few weeks ago.

We had just finished the daily Campus School ritual of dismissal. The last child had seemingly been picked up when a man hesitantly walked up to me as I was heading back into school. I asked, “Can I help you?”

“Hi,” he said as he looked around. He then-- and I thought this was bit odd-- put his hand almost reverentially on the pillar holding up the portico. “I have a strange question: ‘I graduated 40 years ago, moved away a long time ago and I wondered if I could walk through the building?”

This is an occasional perk of being head of school-- I get to meet and tour nostalgic alums through our classrooms. We walked the building and he reminisced about studying local history and learning about frontier life during the study of pioneers. He laughed about the hard work of churning butter and the blisters that came with working with other tools.

The rocket science joke came up when he started talking about his current work. He is the founder of the Nanoscale Patterning Laboratory at the University of Michigan. He designs microelectronic products using nanoscale patterning and works on conjugated polymer-based optoelectronic and electronic devices and molecular electronics. After he finished briefing me, I looked at him with what was probably a blank look and said something like, “Oh man, that makes rocket science seem like Legos.”  We laughed, but the visit became very poignant for me as we continued through the building.

At one point, he pointed to a room and said, “There! I think--that is where I learned to think. I learned to think empirically and scientifically when I was here. We were always learning and studying through questions and that is what I still do as computer engineer. I ask questions, test solutions, and seek out empirical answers.”

It was fascinating to listen to him recollect about the enduring outcomes of learning experienced when he was a child.  I was reminded of book written by my friend Tom Barone, Touching Eternity: The Enduring Outcomes of Teaching.  Tom’s book evolved out of a study he did exploring the impact of a high school art teacher from North Carolina on his students. In the late 1970s he wrote a report on the art program at the school because it had won a prestigious national award. Decades later he returns and interviews students -- now adults-- about how the teacher and the art program retained an influence in their life. The book pursues the question, “what are the enduring consequences that can flow from the experiences provided for students by their teachers? (p. 1)." It plays on the oft-repeated Henry Adams quote that he cites,"A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops" (p. 1).”

I channeled Tom Barone in that moment and asked him to explain what he remembered about his curriculum. He told me with excitement, “I remember studying pond life by creating a pool of water together, adding some plant life and then checking and recording each day what changes occurred and having to explain why those changes had transpired. I think I learned to observe, record, ask questions, and generate hypotheses. That has been my life.”

Over the last week, I found myself returning to his story. He may have graduated in 1978, but  the modes of thinking remain central to who we are as a school. We teach children how to think like scientists who may one day work on the basic problems of conjugated polymers.  

This got me thinking: what do we mean by “think like a scientist.” Over the last 30 years there has been an expanding research base that has attempted to identify the basic processes of scientific cognition, problem solving, and invention. One of the primary researchers in this field is Georgia Tech’s Nancy Neressian. She studies how teams of scientists achieve technical advances and theoretical insights in disciplines such as engineering and neuroscience.

She puts forward two ideas that speak to how I understand aspects of the work being done by Campus School teachers and students:

First-- scientific understanding doesn’t happen as a solo “aha” sparked by a singular creative insight of an individual. Scientific meaning and learning occurs within a community of practice. Science involves social interaction, conversation, shared symbol systems, and ongoing discourse. As Neressian writes, science results from the

“lived relationships among the components of these systems, people and artifacts.”* In other words, science has a noisy interactive buzz--just like a Campus School classroom.

Second--she describes the space where scientists uncover meaning not as a “lab” but as a “problem space”*  She describes “problem spaces” not as a physical space, but a space containing resources for problem solving. This would include people, technology, knowledge resources (books, artifacts, internet) and access to problems and artifacts. What better way to describe a Campus School classroom: a place where children and teachers come together, along with materials, to discover, discuss, and contend with questions, and seek out problems.

For example, I dropped into one of our first grade classrooms. They were putting on a museum-like exhibit of the forest-floor terrariums they had assembled as part of their study of the forest ecosystem. To build their terrariums they hiked through the woods and  collected satchels of artifacts: leaves, moss, twigs, insects, and other materials. They each constructed a personal terrarium where they could consider the many aspects of a forest floor ecosystem: decomposition, the water cycle, food webs, the needs of living things, and study how the materials changes over time.

The room was buzzing as they studied each other’s terrariums. They peered and squinted-- eye to the Mason-jar like container and engaged in asking each other questions and sharing bold insights about what had changed in their terrarium over the days since they had assembled it. They were sharing ideas and trying to solve problems that terrariums presented like, “why had moisture built up on the glass?”

Another example of “thinking like a scientist” occurs after third graders return from across campus on their river walk to the Mill River. They had spent the morning observing and studying the river and they returned to process the experience. They assembled on Pebble Beach to share their observations, questions, and emerging theories. They came together to puzzle through the “problem space” of the Mill River. They returned from walking the river and engaged each other around the problem of “how does a river get it’s power?” The other class puzzled over the problem, “What variables change the flow of the river?”

In second grade, our students are learning to think and engage the world like naturalists. They study John Muir and Rachel Carson and consider what it means to wonder, marvel, and question. They spend time looking closely and recording observations their naturalist/science notebooks. The prompt asks them to, “Record observations, ideas, questions, feelings, thinking/theories, connections to background knowledge.” Each page asks,

Draw, label and describe what you see:
What are you thinking about? What does it make you wonder?

Here are some snippets of writing from these books:

A leaf stem of feathery green turning to yellow orange. A bocquet of leaves

Grows good




Why do ladybugs have differing amounts of spots?


Bumpy looks like a ghost

eyes smooth on the inside

brown and black. Very interesting.

How did it form? Where did it come from? Why is it bumpy? Why does it have holes? Why is it smooth in some places? What kind of nut is it


A drawing of a clover. A three-leaf clover that is finely illustrated so that the serrations on the leaf stand out.

Does a three-leaf clover give you good luck? Why is it green? Why do four leaf clovers give you luck? Why does it have a stem?


Silky sticky red

berry silently falling

from a tree glistening

red berry. So soft

Whether it’s rocket science, the river study, peering at ladybugs, or running empirical studies on nanoparticular quantum optronics-- scientists think by connecting their minds and ideas together and by seeing problems and raising questions. That is what we do around here!

*Nersessian, N. J. (2005). Interpreting scientific and engineering practices: Integrating the cognitive, social, and cultural dimensions. Scientific and technological thinking, 17-56.



September 19, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

So the etymology of novice derives from the 12th century Latin novicius meaning "newly imported and experienced." I boldly claim the mantle of novicius in regard to "video production." Yet in the Campus School spirit of always learning, I want to share the story of our first three weeks. It's a story of how all across the school-- our focus has been on building the foundation of a learning community.

Have a wonderful weekend. This year-- as much as I can-- I will strive to share reflections on learning and life here at the Campus School. 




September 5, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

There is something uplifting about 250+ voices singing together..

Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.

Our old gym was awash in those words and sentiment on Wednesday while we sang this Campus School standby as we finished our Opening Day Assembly. As you know, this has been a year of “new friends” joining SCCS and it is with eager anticipation and genuine excitement that our year begins.

One of our “new friends” will be joining us for Parent Night this Tuesday. Smith President Kathy McCartney will speak for just a few minutes at 6:45 pm. As far as we know, having the Smith President join us at parent night is a first for the school. Prior to coming to Smith, Kathy was the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is a world-class scholar and researcher focused on early childhood education and child care. We are excited to welcome her for very brief remarks.

The other two pieces of the assembly are also worth describing as they speak to important observations about our upcoming year.

As you may know, another wonderful Campus School tradition involves faculty and staff identifying a Common Book for the year. This year A Ball of Yarn by Mac Barnett was selected. It’s a lovely book that is on display in every classroom in the school. It’s a story that celebrates the yarn of life: who we are, what we do and create, what we share, what we receive, how we care, and how we can reach out. It’s a book that celebrates how tangled life can be.

In honor of our common book and our opening assembly, Cindy Naughton, amazingly, wrote a song and music inspired by the book. It was quite a feat to teach the whole school the song and then have us sing together...

A ball of yarn is a wonderful thing.

It can make you clothes, it can make you sing.

If you share it around you’ll be discovering

the magic it can bring (the full song is down below)

The last part of the assembly focused on my short remarks to the entire school community. Last year-- I began by organizing my remarks at the opening assembly around one of my most cherished children’s stories Amos and Boris by William Steig. Over the year, I had the chance to read Amos and Boris in a number of classes and when students would come to visit at the office I had copies and we would sometimes find our way back into the book for a conversation. This year-- I selected another family favorite to guide my thoughts: Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka.

It’s a 34-word book accompanied by some wildly engaging illustrations and it tells the story of two children who meet on a street and go through the stages of forming a connection and a spark. It’s a book about noticing somebody, reaching out, and creating a friendship. Ms. Marble (our new librarian) and I read the book and tried to dramatically enact the story, which captures all of what we feel when we start something new: anxiety, hope, loneliness, the moment of bravely reaching out, anticipation, surprise, the spark of connection, and concludes with a sense of joy. The last page of the book is both boys jumping high in exaltation and singing… “YOW!” in unison.

So thank you all… YOW! What a week!



A Ball of Yarn

Lyrics and music by Cindy Naughton
Based on Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

A ball of yarn is a wonderful thing.
It can make you clothes, it can make you sing.
If you share it around you'll be discovering

The yarn can come in every hue
with different qualities just like you
put them together for a beautiful view
so welcoming and new.

A ball of yarn...

Find a talent that you can share
give of yourself and be aware
of who you can help everywhere
create a life with love and care.

A ball of yarn...

June 5, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

I hope all is well. I am writing with a couple of short updates.

First, I hope you will read the wonderful lead article about the Campus School on the Smith College GATE-- which is the leading news source for Smith College. The article describes an ongoing relationship between the Campus School and a group of professors from engineering and the education and child study departments involving a National Science Foundation grant on engineering education. The article highlights how Campus School students have played a central role in the design and beta testing of a multimedia project that will be widely available to schools across the country. Here is the teaser from the article:

As any graduate can attest, the Smith College Campus School has a long history of making learning fun. On a recent Friday morning, students in Mary Ann Dassatti’s sixth-grade information technology class are discovering that for themselves. They are testing the beta version of a new website, and the room is soon focused and alive with ideas and questions:

“Robots can analyze all the results for every single move in like two seconds!” … ”This robot is a genius!” … ”This is so weird!” … “Wait, there’s a robots’ rights movement?”

Introducing sixth-graders to complex engineering concepts—and getting them to like it—may seem like the stuff of fairy tales. But with the help of “Through My Window,” a multimedia engineering education website developed by faculty at Smith and Springfield Technical Community colleges and funded by the National Science Foundation, it’s actually becoming a reality.

I wanted to also share a quick update on staffing.  As sometimes happens at the school, when positions open up we will have some internal movement across grades. This year Emily Endris will be moving from third grade to fifth grade. Emily is very excited to work with older children and to explore our fifth grade curriculum. She has been a remarkable addition to our Campus School team and we are excited for her to join Paul Matylas in our fifth grade

In addition, Marty Knieriem and Barbara Wright will replace Sally Bagg and work together to coordinate the Instrumental Music program. Marty and Barbara have many years of working in the instrumental music program and are excited to continue to provide nearly 112 students at the school with an opportunity to learn to play and love an instrument.

Finally, just a quick update on the teacher searches. We are making good progress as a committee and we will share news as it develops.

All my best,


May 24, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

Last week marked an exciting week of Smith commencement activities.  As a professor, it is often the first time that I meet the families of my undergraduate and graduate students. I am always struck during these encounters with parents, grandparents, siblings, and others that despite appearing all grown up and independent—the educational path of my students has been a collective journey. As one mom of a graduate student once told me, “I can’t believe it’s over. We have been learning and doing school together for 23 years.”

Education and schooling is a shared adventure and in some ways a family affair filled with shared experiences and milestones. I feel this poignantly in my own life whether it is helping Riley plan and build his Riverfest boat in third grade or talking with my oldest son Jake as he worked through ideas for his term papers during his junior year of college.  In my new role at the Campus School, I see the deep involvement and commitment of families in so many ways. I feel it during morning drop-off when children often arrive toting projects that need to be carefully transferred from the car into the school.  I see it in the afternoons when our hallways fill up with parents attending classroom exhibitions or shows. And perhaps the day I felt this most significantly at the Campus School was our Grandparent and Special Elder’s Day. 

There was a special hum at the school that day. The events included performances by the chorus, poetry reading by the sixth graders, the Nikki and Guy second and fourth grade dance show, and the touring of classrooms by grandparents and special elders. In this spirit of celebrating the importance of family, I share with you my remarks that I delivered at the Grandparents and Special Elder luncheon. I tried to convey to the grandparents and special elders the crucial role they play in the lives of our children:

Remarks to Grandparents and Special Elders:

When I first came to the Campus School, I would walk into classrooms and students would be absorbed in discussion.  In the midst of the back and forth, a student would make a comment and all of a sudden fellow students would stick their thumb up in the air and their pinky down to the ground and shimmy their fist. It took a little while, but students finally explained that this distinct hand motion was the Campus School signal for “I agree with what you said” or “I connect with your idea.” 

So—in the spirit of the Campus School shimmy—I offer you a shimmy [I waggle my hand] because today is about connections and the Campus School is a place that does connections well:

 We connect art to who we are becoming

We connect math to explain the world

We connect science to how we understand ourselves

We connect literature to our individual and social lives

All of that richness and connection happens each and everyday….

But today is a special day and we are honoring a special connection important to us all that care about how our children grow up.

Today is the day that we think about the role of special elders and grandparents in our life.

As with all things Campus School-- thus begins a meaningful process that originates inside our classrooms. Across the grades teachers help children ramp up to this special day by

Talking about meaningful special elders in their life

Reading books or articles that describe relationships between children and special elders 

Finally, they write the cards, which adorn our lobby that describe their connection to a special elder. Across the many classrooms at the CS, the prompts vary, but here are typical questions that would guide a student’s writing and thinking:

Think of a special elder in your life

What special memories do you have of that person

What makes him or her special to you?

Talk to a parent about him or her

Write about why your special elder is someone you want to remember on this day….

Aside from being poignant-- the cards reveal a special kind of connection that is crucial and transformative in the lives of the children at this school- - and every school-- the connection they have with grandparents and special elders.

I am a researcher and I believe that we can learn a lot about ourselves, our institutions, and our communities by attending to the stories people tell.  In this spirit, I read the placards and organized them into three themes that describe how our children view the impact of special elders on their lives. 

FIRST-- YOU INTRODUCE THEM TO ‘PLACES’… Special elder and grandparents become inextricably linked to a place in the minds and memories of children. If you look closely at the illustrations that children prepared and read the accompanying captions, they describe how they share “geography and location” with children. This reverence for place-- it could be the lake house where they canoed with grandpa or the special sunroom where family dinners unfolded, or the kitchen where they baked with their family. These places take on a mythical quality-- they are home base in a way. The other kinds of places named by children have to do with adventures with special elders… trips to Disney, hikes in the fields, time spent in the garden.

SECOND, THEY LOVE SPENDING TIME AND DOING THINGS WITH YOU.  I have to say that looking through the memory cards and reading about the number of children that cherish memories of playing poker and gin rummy with their grandparents (my takeaway from all the gambling innuendo is that our grandparents and special elders are probably getting fleeced by our kids). Aside from games of chance, our children describe rituals of walking together, exploring together, and cooking and sewing together. They all describe how their relationships with you help them discover their most special passions: art, baseball, music and other activities that imprint deeply and memorably across generations. What they love to do, in many cases, emanates from the passions and interests you introduced them to or participated in with them

LASTLY-- YOU ARE THE SOURCE IN HOW THEY UNDERSTAND THE STORY OF THEIR FAMILY. Grandparents and special elders serve as powerful sources of enduring stories. You are the family historians and the stories you tell about crucial family events define your family’s lineage. Aside from the obvious importance of knowing where and who one came from-- you provide them with the prevailing narrative of how they understand the family that they belong to.

There is even empirical research that suggests that children that know a lot about their families tend to do better and exhibit resilience when faced with challenges. This involves knowing important details such as -- what is the story of how our family came to America, but also less grand details such as, where did mom and dad go on their first date.

Anyway what is interesting in this research is that it’s not the narrative of Kumbaya that serves children best, but a more honest framing that psychologists Marshall Duke and Bruce Feiler call the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business and lost it.... But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”

The research also says that during the early years, children absorb the stories that their elders tell. This absorption is osmotic, but as children become older it becomes both critical to keep on hearing these stories, but also to have opportunity to “go public” and tell these stories of connection and family narrative. I think this is something the Campus School does so well. We provide so many ways for children to share who they are with their classmates and teachers.

Last thing I notice is that our parents and children live in a busy, hectic, giddy-up world. There has been a sea of change in the intensity of child rearing. My mom and dad look at my family and the complexity of our everyday week makes their heads spin: organized sports, music lessons, arranged play dates and the real game-changer: screen negotiations and battles.

And then the grandparents or special elders show up and it’s a reprieve. It’s support. It’s the cavalry and the whole family can breathe a little healthier and engage in rituals that become the source of powerful memories.  So thank you for being here. As the principal, a teacher, and a dad-- I say to you the Campus School Shimmy….



Project Coach News: Coaching for Life Success at Monday Night Academy

April 19, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

Sorry for the hiatus from my long emails, but it was a combination of winter hibernation and the need to finish up some other writing projects from my work in the Education and Child Study Department. I am glad to be back at writing my bi-weekly observations, because it delights me to be on the “lookout” for those stories of learning, teaching and schooling that infuse everyday life here at SCCS. It’s also a reprieve from those long procedural emails on administrative structures and the such that have been flowing from this office…

The last two weeks have been a percolating and busy time on the Smith Campus. All over campus you can see eager and anxious parents touring around with their daughters who have been admitted to Smith for next year. They are “kicking the wheels” of Smith as they deliberate on whether they will accept Smith’s offer of admission. This year, for the first time ever, the Campus School has been added to the “tour” of Smith’s treasures. What that means is that prospective students and their parents can select a Campus School tour as part of their research on whether the College is a “right fit.” Other venues around Campus that merit tours include the science labs, the Poetry Center, the Smith College Museum of Art, the library, etc...

Last week I led several tours to upwards of 20 students and their families, but on Thursday I received a phone call asking if I could give a special tour to a family from Arizona. It was a wonderful tour with a dynamic young woman interested in studying teaching and doing research on children. She was admitted to Smith as a STRIDE Scholar-- which Smith offers to select high-achieving incoming students. A STRIDE award comes with a $15,000-a-year stipend to conduct undergraduate research with a Smith faculty member.  She was ‘as advertised’-- curious, thoughtful, and exuberant-- just the kind of student I love teaching in my Smith classes

As I walked her and her mother (who was a material science engineer) through the school, I found myself focusing on the Campus School and how so much of our core identity and processes emerge from our enmeshment with Smith College. I also found myself explaining the myriad of special, transformative experiences available for Smith students who become part of our Campus School community. Each semester, we have hundreds of visits by Smith students who learn about teaching, conducting research, child development and more.

The “tour” that Marlene Musante, Maureen Litwin and I planned involved emphasizing how the Campus School functions as a special and unique setting for Smith students to learn about children and teaching. Here is a synopsis of the tours we conducted—we began at the kindergarten rooms and wended our way through the building.

Kindergarten: I began our tour by telling students about the kindergarten leaf study, which immerses students in an experience that connects the central ideas of child development with on-the-ground experiences working with children. I explained that students take Professor Susan Etheredge’s Foundation and Issues of Early Childhood course and then work alongside Ms. Block and Ms. Henderson in the Lyman Conservatory. The course begins with a careful examination of the social and cognitive development of young children and then quickly moves to applying that knowledge in this deep and textured project with our Campus School kindergartners. College students get paired up with kindergarten students and do activities like looking closely at leaves with hand lenses and microscopes. The college students then help the kindergartners carefully examine what they have observed and describe what they have learned using scientific language, sketching, tracings, rubbings, photographs, and then turn those observations into poetry and other forms of descriptive language. The essence of the project, as I explained, is to learn to be a companion to a young child as they inquire, form big and little theories of botany, and test their thinking with others.

As our adorable kindergartners waved to them, we moved on to the first-grade wing…

First Grade: Ms. Perkins class was at a gym so we popped our head into Ms. Cowley’s classroom. While we were there, I told them about a pilot project Ms. Cowley has undertaken in collaboration with Shelby Richards, a senior engineering student who has a minor in architecture. Shelby has been working with Ms. Cowley and Professor Rudnitsky from the Education and Child Study Department to develop activities that introduce first graders to the rudiments of how engineers think. The Smith students were keenly interested in the idea of a Smith student taking the lead on an innovative classroom project.

Shelby’s project focused on students designing “sail cars.” The cars have a stick chassis, wheels, adjustable axels and a large sail. The first graders learned to develop hypotheses around the relationship of wheel size, sail positioning, axel length and more.

I described the project as a S.T.E.A.M intitiative, which is a new movement launched by the  Rhode Island School of Art and Design to promote the idea that,  “We need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM. STEM + Art = STEAM”

As Shelby said, “The point of this project was to give the kids a fun introduction to some of the main aspects of engineering. We did a lot of trial and error over quite a few weeks. I think the kids really enjoyed seeing their cars work better, and figure out what helped and what didn't. I loved being able to see them get better at reasoning what was going wrong with every step.”

Second Grade: Peeking our head into Ms. Murphy and Ms. Sussman’s rooms and the prospective Smith students saw tables piled high with bark, twigs and other natural materials.  We shared with them how themes of nature and questions of ecology are integrated throughout all subject areas. We also shared how the second grade was amidst preparing for their culminating field trip to Smith College’s newly renovated 240-acre Ada and Archibald Macleish’s Field Station where a Smith student had organized an experiential excursion investing the ecology of vernal pools.

I told the admitted Smith students how since the Macleish Center has been renovated numerous students and Smith classes have developed projects that involve exploring sustainability, environmental science, and ecology.

Third Grade: Moving on to third grade we poked our heads into Ms. Endris’ room and were immediately drawn to the wonderfully colorful and complicated set of maps designed by her class in activity of creative cartography that tells the story of how rivers progress from young bubbling brooks and tributaries, to mature meandering rivers, to older, wider and stately rivers. We then stop into Ms. Szymaszek’s room and where her students asked us a number of questions and we saw more artifacts from the river study. This opened up conversation about the many ways that Smith students and faculty get involved in the different aspects of the river unit from working with students in our science lab around modeling how river water flows, to visiting the Mill River multiple times, to working with some of Smith’s most notable scientists like engineering Professor Drew Guswa who also directs the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability. Professor Guswa worked with Ms. Szymaszek, Ms. Endris, and our student teachers around the concepts of hydrology, which is his scholarly expertise. In reflecting on his work with our river curriculum, "It has been a great pleasure to work with the third grade curriculum. To share my knowledge of rivers and hydrology, and to learn how the underlying concepts might be understood by third graders. This has been stimulating."

Fourth Grade: After meandering past the third grade and the river study, we arrived at the fourth grade where I talked with them about a special dance project between a Smith course on community dance taught by Professor Marilyn Middleton-Sylla. The project involved Professor M-S’s students designing a dance show for us that dovetailed and extended the fourth graders study of world geography and, specifically, the study of Africa. The show took place in the Davis Ballroom and the fourth graders walked over with their kindergarten reading buddies. The Smith students also provided explanations about each dance and described how the gestures and movements had particular meanings. The Campus School students also learned a variety of moves, gestures, and several performed with the Smith dancers. The dance culminated with a quick salsa lesson for Ms. Ananda, Ms. Block, Ms. Henderson, Ms. Ramsey and, Ms. Wimberger.

Fifth Grade: We didn’t see the fifth graders on our tour, but if we had I would have shared how students in Professor Rudnitsky’s course on developing meaningful assessments of learning work with teachers across the Campus School on special projects. In Ms. Cooney’s fifth grade classroom, a team of Smithies took on the challenge of devising an assessment to understand how the fifth graders understand the idea of taxonomy. The team of college students begins the project by observing several of Ms. Cooney’s classes on botany. In these classes, Ms. Cooney introduces the idea of a taxonomy by engaging her 5th graders in a multi-day activity that involves them brainstorming all the plant life they know and then devising a system to categorize them. They then learn about the different forms of taxonomy developed from Aristotle through medieval times and then examine the ideas and principles anchoring the Linnaean taxonomy structure. After observing several classes, the students devise an assessment and then meet to present this to Ms. Cooney. Their initial draft gets revised based on Ms. Cooney’s feedback and ideas shared from others in the class. Once refined, the Smith students administer the assessment to fifth graders.

Sixth Grade: Our tour ended in front of the sixth grade rooms, where I shared the story of how a Smith course titled Growing up American: Adolescents and their Educational Institutions just completed an innovative project with our sixth graders. The project involves the Smith students and SCCS students reading a young adult fiction novel together. This year the group read The Misfits or The Revealers. The structure of the project involves the Smith students preparing lesson plans and then leading book discussion groups over a five week period. This was a very intriguing project for the prospective Smith students to hear about and they had many questions such as, “Does the college student teach a regular lesson to a whole class?” The answer to that question is, “No. The college students work with groups of three or four Campus School students and write lesson plans to guide discussions in small groups.” I told them that one of the highlights for the Campus School students is how they describe the small group conversation as “energetic” because they have many more opportunities to talk and think out loud because the groups are smaller than full-class discussion.

At the end of the tour, we gathered in the front lobby and one of the admitted students said with a bright smile, “I hope I get to work here and learn here when I come to Smith, but I think that even better would have been to come here as a student when I was in elementary school.” That was a ringing endorsement!  In fact, here is a blurb from the evaluation of the tour that was circulated among the key administrators at the College about the tour on admissions day.

The Campus school tour was phenomenal because the school was outstanding! I wish I got to go to a school like that! The musical and social justice components were wonderful.




February 24, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

It was a short, but busy week at the Campus School. We returned to our routines and even squeezed in a "redo" of Valentine’s Day! 

In the spirit of Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” and what she describes as the virtue of getting beyond the“comfort zone”  and “stretching...to learn new things,” I have organized this week’s observation as a 3-minute video. 

Communicating in this medium is new to me (so I hope you'll excuse the rough spots), but I am eager to learn more about how to use video, image, sound, and more. I focus on the importance of “talk” in how children learn at the Campus School.



Campus School Talk VIdeo



February 1, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

I have the best office on campus. My windows look out onto the Campus School field and playground. The larger vista includes the downtown steeple of First Church and the Holyoke range looming in the distance. In the early mornings, particularly during winter, the sun creeps over the mountains and glints off the church facade. It’s a quiet and serene postcard scene worthy of Thomas Cole’s “View from Mt. Holyoke.”

At about 11:30 the quintessential New England vista gets infused with surround-sound --Campus School style. Our students stream out for recess and the games begin: foursquare, basketball, hopalong bouncers weaving to and fro on the blacktop, pretend play on the hill, synchronized swinging, and various and sundry tag games all over the field and playground.  Underneath the towering tulip tree outside my office, children gather in a circle of rock boulders where imaginary and magical play unfolds. I have watched children play horsey, wizards, frontierswomen, and puppies. It’s improvisational, high action, child-centered play in its purest form.

I have come believe that providing time, space, and encouragement for child-organized, imaginative play is a signature feature of the Campus School’s educational design. While central to our ethos and practice, it’s important to recognize that the Campus School’s stance on this has become somewhat anomalous. Numerous studies suggest the trend in American education has been to curtail unstructured time during the school day. One organization-- the Alliance for Childhood-- commissioned a research study to examine the state of kindergartens in New York City and Westchester County, New York, and Los Angeles, California. The researchers interviewed hundreds of teachers and did in-depth studies of classrooms. They concluded that “play in all its forms, but especially open-ended child-initiated play, is now a minor activity, if not completely eliminated, in most of the kindergartens in the sample. In its place, teacher-directed activities…”

This trend of maximizing teacher-directed academic instruction has resulted in less time for recess and significant cuts to activities such as art, music, physical education, and drama. Despite a broad and unequivocal research base that concludes, as this study in the medical journal Pediatrics does, “During free play, children increase their imagination and creativity, organize their own games, develop their own rules, learn problem-solving skills, and practice leadership,” schools shave away opportunities for children to engage in creative play. A New York Times report showcases that  “nearly half of all school districts in the country have shifted large chunks of time to math and reading instruction in order to improve student test scores. What’s been cut? Art, music, social studies and recess. The last has been particularly hard hit. On average, American kids get only 26 minutes of recess per day, including lunchtime.” Campus School students get an average 85 minutes in kindergarten, 60 minutes in first and second grade, and 45 minutes in third-sixth grade.  

The role of play in learning and development has long been fascinating to me. At Smith I taught a course titled “Play Time: Theories of Creativity, Games, and Learning.”  The description of the course is as follows: “We will explore the human impulse for play and its relationship to human development and learning. Questions that will occupy our time include: What is the role of play in cognitive and social development? What is the connection between play, learning, and creativity and what social and institutional conditions promote this relationship? What makes for instructional design focused on learning through play? As a companion to the seminar, we will design and teach in an afterschool program for local youth that will be held at the SC Art Museum.” In short, I believe that when children get swept up and absorbed in play it is a sweet spot of learning and development.

The first reading we do in my course is a NY Times Magazine cover story that takes on the global issues of play. In “Taking Play Seriously” Robin Henig writes, “Scientists who study play, in animals and humans alike, are developing a consensus view that play is something more than a way for restless kids to work off steam; more than a way for chubby kids to burn off calories; more than a frivolous luxury. Play, in their view, is a central part of neurological growth and development — one important way that children build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains.” The takeaway-- opportunities for dynamic, creative, and improvisational play is central to healthy educational and social development.

In fact, the same Pediatrics study that I reference earlier concludes, “that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.”

I believe that parents at the Campus School understand this. Earlier this year-- at one of the first Parent Advisory Council Sessions-- we began with the question: Why did your family choose the Campus School? Why, with so many outstanding educational options in the Valley, did you pick SCCS?”

In this year of nonstop learning for me, the responses I heard were fascinating. Parents described the rigor of the academics;  the sense of community; a curriculum that emphasizes ideas, imagination and creativity; the relationship and opportunities that emerge from being an elementary school connected to Smith College, and the rich and vibrant arts, music, physical education and technology programs.  The response that surprised me, and was voiced by a number of parents, focused on how a primary draw of the Campus School was the emphasis on providing time for free play and for children to have outside time during their day.

As the year has unfolded, I have heard how Campus School teachers think about how to infuse principles of play and games into key global features of the school. In speaking to Scott Messinger and Betsy Ducharme about the Campus School’s recess philosophy, I learned about the conscious and deliberate philosophy that guides recess time. Scott Messinger explains, “I think about how important it is for children to learn to play backyard games. This involves providing space, equipment, and occasional support. It’s a process, but children love to play. They want to play and many of our students do lots of activities that are adult choreographed like soccer, dance rehearsal, and basketball practice, which is wonderful, but these activities are often adult structured. Spans of time to play in the backyard or with other children are more rare. At recess we encourage them to play like kids which means design their own rules and, when possible, solve the problems that emerge within their games.”

What this looks like in practice is that children play countless variations of foursquare on the blacktop, a football game that flows as a hybrid between American football, soccer, and tag, and myriad of other games and activities. This is not to say that there aren’t occasional challenges that occur when children feel left out or flashes of frustration that arise as children negotiate over rules and boundaries. Yes, these moments can be raw and sad, but according to the research on play-- the conflict and negotiation that ensues maybe result in pivotal learning.

Andy Bornstein-- who writes a column for the NY Times weighed in on this in an article,”Hard Times for Recess,” which synthesizes a range of studies on the deterioration of recess time. He writes,  “We take it for granted that children know how to play, but the skills that make play fun, that make it possible — like being able to resolve conflicts quickly, knowing how to choose fair teams, knowing and respecting rules —are not innate; they are learned. And they must be practiced.” As Mr. Messinger has often said to me, “Our job is to help them figure out how to play like kids. There is something wonderful and important about what happens when they just play-- but they need to learn and practice those skills.”

Ms. Ducharme echoes this theme, “Recess and time out on the playground is an essential and central part of our Campus School curriculum. First, kids need to move. They need activity. Second, the playground is a shared multi-age space. Children playing soccer and football and tag and other activities need to negotiate how to share the space. It’s a laboratory for social engagement and figuring out how to play together. Third, watching children play and engage provides all the adults at the Campus School with tremendous insight into who they are as people and learners. We- the teachers, student teachers, and I watch all the time-- we try not to intervene, but we learn so much from what transpires on the playground.” Ms. Block-- also describes how time on the playground helps the kindergarten team learn about students, “We learn so much as kindergarten teachers watching children play. We see who they play with, how they interact with others, how they form and reform groups. What we learn on the playground is central to our social curriculum.”

There was also the sentiment that what transpires on the field and in the play structures at the Campus School is a distinct and unique experience for this generation of children. A number of teachers remarked that spontaneous and unstructured neighborhood and friend play was rare for the children they taught. While it might have been common years ago, there appears to be less free play and more structure including, lessons, adult-coached sport teams, and other tightly supervised activities. Ms. Ducharme observed, “Our playground and recess time is a pretty unique space. Kids today don’t replicate situations where you have large groups of multi-age kids playing and interacting. This is what used to happen in neighborhoods. There is something to be learned by kids having to figure out how to share space, invent activities, and play across groups.” I also heard from all teachers a sense of relentless commitment to what they called a core Campus School principle: “You can’t say, you can’t play.”

Let me end by describing a moment from today’s recess that Mr. Messinger shared with me. He and several of the teachers watched the football game dissolve into a big group debate. The students were haggling over rules and it looked like it was getting tense. Mr. Messinger said as he watched he was calculating whether it was getting to the level where adult intervention would be necessary. Just as he was about move towards the group-- several of the students called, “DO OVER.” In an instant, they sprung back into game play. “The power of DO OVER-- is something powerful that they have learned,” said Mr. Messinger. “It may sometimes be busy and chaotic, but they learn about negotiation, compromise, and conflict resolution through the games they play.”

I’m reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”


If you’re interested… a partial reading list of the course….
Ackerman, D. (1999). Deep play (1st ed.). New York: Random House.

Bettelheim, B. (1977). The uses of enchantment: The meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Vintage Books.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins.

Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Mitchell, R. G.,Jr. (1983). Mountain experience: The psychology and sociology of adventure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pink, D. H. (2005). A whole new mind : Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York: Riverhead Books.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). The flow experience and its significance for human psychology. In Csikszentmihalyi,Mihaly and Isabell Selega Csikszentmihalyi (Ed.), Optimal experiences: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness (). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dickey, M. D. (2006). Game design narrative for learning: Appropriating adventure game design narrative devices and techniques for the design of interactive learning environments. Educational Technology Research & Development, 54(3), 245-263.

Dyson, A. H. (1994). The ninjas, the X-men, and the ladies: Playing with power and identity in an urban primary school. Teachers College Record, 96(2), 219-239.

Grodal, T. (2003). Chapter 6: Stories for eye, ear, and muscles: Video games, media, and embodied experiences. In M. J. P. Wolf & B. Perron (Eds.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp. 25-46). New York: Routledge

Larson, R. W., & Walker, K. C. (2006). Learning about the 'real world' in an urban arts youth program. Journal of Adolescent Research, 2

McMahan, A. (2003). Chapter 3: Immersion, engagement, and presence: A method for analyzing 3-D video games. In M. J. P. Wolf & B. Perron (Eds.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp. 25-46). New York: Routledge.

Koster, R. (2005). Chapter 2: How the brain works. In A Theory of Fun for Game Design (pp. 12-33). Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press.

Kirriemuir, J., & McFarlane, A. Use of computer and video games in the classroom.

Pearce, N. J., & Larson, R. W. (2006). How teens become engaged in youth development programs: The process of motivational change in a civic activism organization. Applied Developmental Science, 10(3), 121-131.


January 18, 2014

Dear Campus School Families:

Today we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through his words and song. It’s a truly special event that is orchestrated by Cindy Naughton and supported by all the teachers in the school through the study of Dr. King and the many facets of the Civil Rights Movement. It is a moving and powerful all-school event.

You also may have noticed that last week you did not receive an “observations” email. Starting with the Winter Break, I will be sharing observations every other week. Writing weekly reflections has allowed me to share my observations about the Campus School and it has also helped me learn in depth about the curriculum and practices that guide our community. I will continue this practice, but do so biweekly.

My observations this week are inspired by a sad event in my own life. My mentor and graduate advisor passed away last week. Elliot Eisner was the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education and professor of art at Stanford University, and one of the most influential and creative educational thinkers of this generation. More than that, he was a vibrant, commanding presence who was passionately loyal and supportive to his graduate students. Working with him changed my life.

As I thought of Elliot and spent time mourning his passing and reminiscing about his importance in my own life and journey, I found myself thinking about how much Elliot would have adored the Campus School.  This, quite simply, is his kind of place. Here is why….

Elliot believed that a primary goal of schooling is to help children learn to enlarge their imagination and creativity; the Campus School is a place where children learn to exercise their imagination.   Elliot taught art in inner-city Chicago before returning to graduate school at the University of Chicago. His initial forays into empirical research during the 1960s were grounded in questions that he carried with him from his time spent teaching adolescents in Chicago schools and his own work as an artist. He wondered about the source of individual creativity. He speculated that the idea that creativity was a mystical talent or gift endowed among a rarefied few was wrong. Instead, he believed that the capacity for creativity was a quality that schools could develop, cultivate and grow.

Schools -- he would often tell us-- shape minds and that the curriculum-- derived from Latincurrere or literally the course one travels-- is a mind-altering device. I remember one of the first classes I took with him he asked, “how is a mind different than a brain?” I could remember being intimidated and not want to get that one wrong. I can’t remember what I said or thought as I sat hunched over, but I remember Elliot often saying something like, “Minds, unlike brains, are not entirely given at birth; minds are also forms of cultural achievement.” The kinds of minds we develop are profoundly influenced by the opportunities to learn that the school provides.”

In the spirit of Elliot’s belief that schooling done well develops complex and subtle aspects of the mind, I could imagine him striding up the portico and walking through the front doors. I could also imagine him stopping at full tilt to study with high intensity the variety of representations of the body, faces, and figures on display on the front bulletin board. Mr. Hepner’s project on the human body dovetails with the fourth grade study of human anatomy. The particular project displayed was co-designed last year by Mr. Hepner’s Smith College student teacher, Clara Bauman. The unit begins with students studying the details of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketch books where he sketched elements of the human anatomy in an effort to understand the science of the human body. Mr. Hepner explains that, “We study DaVinci’s paintings to understand how he used drawing as a scientist to learn through careful systematic observation.” After students look through the sketches they they use white paint on black paper to sketch their version of Da Vinci’s work.

The next day they begin class with an examination of
Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Hatian-American artist who did a series of renditions of Da Vinci’s sketches using bold colors and abstract representations. After studying Basquiat’s work, student return to their original white on black sketches and add colors. They work from the idea that color and shape can as Mr. Hepner explains “help express energy, charisma and life.”

By working through multiple mediums to express content, ideas, and emotions students achieve what Elliot would consider one of the primary aspirations of education: “learning to pay attention to qualities and their expressive content.” This endeavor-- which is a single case of many similar projects at the school-- represent how children at the Campus School exercise creative and imaginative expression.

The Campus School is a place where children learn to frame the world from with an aesthetic perspective. It would take some work to move Elliot out of the lobby, because he loved to study the subtleties of children’s art making. He would get energized talking about the form and patterns. He revelled with a connoisseur's delight at how children play and think in and with a medium. This is to say that eventually I would pull him away and I could take him into a classroom. This week I myself landed in Ms. Murphy’s 2nd grade classroom and I witnessed children writing poetry in a way that I know would have thrilled Elliot.

He believed that being education involved more than the ability to read, write, analyze and think critically. He promoted re-conceptualizing what we mean by literacy to include forms of representation that included the poetic, visual art, music, and somatic knowing. He wrote in an essay titled “What Education can Learn from the Arts” that, “Language used in the service of the poetic is quite different than language used in the service of the literal. One can be literate in one form and illiterate in the other. What schools need to attend to are the cultivation of literacy in its many forms. Each form of literacy provides another way to be in the world, another way to form experience, another way to recover and express meaning.” To this end, he advocated fervently for a curriculum that is multi-literate and teaches children to both decode and understand different art forms and encode and produce different art forms. As he wrote in Arts and Creation of the Mind, “To see the rock formation as a poet might mean that one will not be likely to see it, at least at the same time, as a geologist, painter, or real estate agent.”

Elliot’s vision of this comes to fruition in Ms. Murphy’s class where they work on using poetry to describe “small moments” that they have experienced. Importantly a staple of curriculum would involve students putting together a sequenced narrative that consists of a string of events or entail composing a plot that described the beginning, middle, and end of an event. This type of conventional storytelling is important, but Ms. Murphy was as she describes focusing on a single unitary moment in time. “When we focus on writing poetry, we take that a step further, really honing in on a moment and thinking about the use of different kinds of tools that help us describe these experiences in “poetic language.” A second feature of this activity involved trying to compose quickly and spontaneously. In a sense summoning poetic thought and expression as a natural flowing form of expression. The prompt was to compose three lines:

“First one: an animal / what it does / when”

Grazing in the meadow
Sun going down like gold

Going home
In the stars

A little kitten
Snuggling in a blanket soft and cozy
One morning

The next prompt Ms. Murphy described as adapted from a workshop she attended with the poet and teacher Christian McEwen. It was called “Superlative poems” title: the 3 most ______things; each line naming one of the three

The Three Oldest Things
Rocks cradled in moss
Earth withered in life
Space lonesome with blackness

The Three Most Important Things
Taking care of my parents
Making the house neat
Learning in school

The Three Slowest Things
A traffic jam
A turtle crawling out of water
A sloth crawling on a branch

These poems transform small and fragile moments of experience -- evanescent passing thoughts -- into a form of representation that is stable and durable. Elliot would adore this exercise and view it as a demonstration of what he would lovingly describe as a complex “cognitive event” that not only inscribes a moment of time, but also gives us “means to explore our own interior landscape.” These poems maybe short, but they necessitate powerful and consequential forms of thinking.

I could keep on touring Elliot through our school, but let me end by sharing one takeaway that Elliot would have palpably felt during his visit to the Campus School: Joy.  He wrote, “Joy is not a term that is used much in the context of education, but if the arts are about anything, they are about how they make you feel in their presence-- when you know how to read their form.” He considered teaching an art form-- much in the same way that painting or sculpting is an art form-- so he would have given me a stern, but approving look and said, “this is a place of joy.”



To learn more about Elliot’s Work:




December 20, 2013

Dear Campus School Families:

I wish you and your family a joyous and restorative holiday season. In lieu of a written reflection this week, I did some learning about other modes of sharing my observations. We have uploaded a 2 minute 45 second video and holiday message. I used the beautiful music of from our Campus School chorus, some stunning photographs taken by Lex Fletcher (who works in our first grade classroom), incorporated a voice over reflection, and depended on Mary Ann Dassatti for counsel and support. 

These are exciting times in education and at the Campus School....

Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy my foray into digital observations! 




December 13, 2013

Dear Campus School Families:

When I was teaching in Brooklyn in 1990, Nelson Mandela visited Boys and Girls High School and spoke passionately about what it would take to end apartheid. I was teaching at another Brooklyn high school and I remember how Mandela’s visit created a powerful teachable moment for me and my students.

With my own experience as the backdrop, I have been so aware of the teaching and learning that has transpired this week around Nelson Mandela’s passing. I guess I would characterize it as a week of teachable moments, which is a way to say that while a school’s curriculum is carefully planned -- “teachable moments” emerge as opportunities for learning outside the designed set of activities. Teachers seize these occasions to delve deep or to explore a situation that is timely, relevant, and often deeply motivating to students.  I don’t believe these occasions are fortuitous or happenstance, but discerned and then developed by teachers who understand that connecting the classroom to the real world can be enduringly meaningful to children. I would like to share several of these ‘teachable moments’ that I observed during this busy and intense stretch at the Campus School. This is a period of units coming to a close, parent conferences beginning, student teachers finishing the semester, and holiday break looming.

The morning after Nelson Mandela died, Campus School teachers sprung into action to develop approaches for students to make meaning of this event. By 7:15 am all the books in the library on Nelson Mandela were circulating between teachers as they connected with each other about sharing books and approaches to think with students about this event.

Teachers across the grades started by tapping into what their students already knew about Mandela. Starting with what students know is a fundamental practice at the Campus School as it provides learners with an opportunity to reflect on their own knowledge around the object of study and then come together to weave a community knowledge base. If you peek into different classrooms all over the school you will see a variety of mind maps, webs, and other representations of how classrooms engaged in a knowledge building discussion of Mandela’s life, impact, and contributions to society.

Another strategy teachers used across grades was to share powerful Mandela quotes. The students engaged in discussion around the meaning of the quote and their significance to our time and lives. For example:

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

As I talked with teachers, one of our ‘insights’ into the learning that was happening at the Campus School involved how students were understanding Mandela not just through their own personal context or through what they had absorbed in the news and media-- but in relationship to experiences they had in the Campus School curriculum. By way of example, in the 3rd grade when students were enmeshed in discussion with Ms. Endris and Ms. Szymaszek the words and ideas they shared included patterns of insight such as:  “Mandela was a great-changer” or he was the “leader of a change movement.”

The idea of “changer” is significant language in the Campus School because it encompasses ideas that our students tangle with in first and second grade. They study “great changers” in first grade and then in second grade they examine how “great changers” inspire and lead movements such as the Civil Rights Movement.

In the spirit of a teachable moment braiding together with the planned curriculum, I would like to share a few glimpses of how our teachers engaged with Mandela’s passing.

In the first grade, the unit on great-changers sets the stage.  Great changers, Ms. Perkins explains, is the study “of people who have made great change in the world by using their words, being peaceful.”  Each first grader is assigned a “great changer” to study and then paired with a fifth grader to read a biography of the “great changer” such as Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Wilma Rudolph or Martin Luther King. Once they, as Ms. Cowley describes, “know the story in their bones” they start to create a word bank of descriptors in response to the question: “What words describe your ‘Great Changers?”  The word bank included:  “powerful, hopeful, grateful, scared, happy, sad, kind, fair, triumph, and grit.”

In recognition of Mandela’s life as a “great changer” first graders read Kadir Nelson’s beautiful picture bookNelson Mandela, which tells the story of Mandela growing up and his journey to topple apartheid and heal South Africa. This is particularly relevant to the “great changer unit” because first graders study those who accomplish what Ms. Perkins describes as “great change in the world by using their words, being peaceful and, especially in Mandela's case, forgiving people who have wronged them.”

Second graders move to the study of how individual leaders can forge common cause and bring about “great change.” One of the feature units of this study is the beautiful Montgomery Bus Boycott project. Here is Ms. Murphy’s introduction to what is happening:

This week, we began our study of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by building background knowledge. We need to understand what a “right” is before we think about the need for a “civil rights movement.” Students in Group R brainstormed their ideas about what people need for “a good and happy life.” Here are their thoughts:

Sun, light, warmth, school, education, respect, house, pets, experience with nature, water, love, food, grandparents, friends, care, trees, plants, the right to do what they want.

We compared this list to the U.N. “Rights of the Child” and noticed that we had come up with most of the same ideas! Next we used the text,  A Life Like Mine: How Children Live around the World, and worked in partners to learn more about each of these rights. Students practiced taking notes from non-fiction texts, and tried to put those ideas into their own words. Each student is creating a collage that illustrates an important right. When we return in January, we will begin reading the text that guides us through the boycott story.

In third grade, students read books on Mandela and engaged with each other about the significance of his life and achievements. As one student wrote on the class mind map, “he caused a big movement in the freedom fight against the segregation laws.” The language of change and courage showed up in other ways as the class worked through the idea that a good person or a great person can end up in jail and what it means to stand up to power. Students then brought home assignments where they had to speak with their parents or others about what Mandela’s death meant to them and how they understood his role as a change maker and leader.

In the sixth grade, talk about Mandela’s contributions to social change infused the week. One particular episode with threads to the idea of “change maker” and “movements” occurred when both classes assembledon Tuesday for a session with Professor (& dad of a 6th grader) Jon Western’s Government 341 Seminar in International Politics. A group of nearly 60 college and SCCS students convened in small groups to examine the concepts that anchor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Professor Western put together a plan that engaged college and SCC students in a series of provocative scenarios:

“You have landed on a new planet/continent inhabited by aliens. Many are nice. Some are suspicious. They are all curious and welcoming. They have never seen a human being such as you. They ask you, “What is a human being?”

After a discussion on this basic philosophical question, they move to discussing, “The aliens then ask you what things are needed in order to protect, enhance, and fully develop these qualities of a human being.” The next scenario engaged them in developing their own Universal Bill of Rights: “You continue your journey and discover a small new planet. No one has ever lived there. There are no laws, no rules, and no history. You will all be settlers here and in preparation your group has been appointed to draw up the bill of rights for this new planet. You do not know what position you will have in this planet.”

The collaborative groups of college students and SCCS students brainstormed a list of what they considered to be fundamental human rights. Their insights included:

The right to an education

The right to a job that pays a livable wage

The right to secure property

The right to have their own beliefs

Once the small group work was completed the entire group assembled to discuss their recommendations for a universal human rights document. The discussion stretched wide, but kept circling back to the 6th grade study of the Industrial Revolution, the importance of honoring an individual’s dignity, and in the words of one of the SCCS students who was sharing in her small group, “how these ideals were what Nelson Mandela fought and sacrificed for in his leadership.”

One of the college students— a senior who was graduating this semester from Smith— said, “This was my last college class. I am so glad to have spent it with these amazing students.”

I know what she means…. there is plenty of amazing that happens around here…

Enjoy the snow-- I know our kids will love it…


December 6, 2013

Dear Campus School Families:

Monday mornings this semester, I could walk into Ms. Colon-Bradt’s sixth grade classroom and there would be a hum of intense conversation as pods of sixth graders and Smith College students huddled over a spread of photographs. The photographs included iconic photos of child laborers taken during the Industrial Revolution, images of pre-teens standing idly about in 1950’s suburbia, to more contemporary depictions of today’s teens.  College students and sixth graders would be scrutinizing the photographs:

“What do you see in this image?” asks a Smith College student.

“Childhood must have been so sad,” replies a 6th grader looking at a picture of child miners standing forlornly in front of what looks like a cave entrance. She continues, “Look at their faces. They look exhausted.”

“What else do you see?” asks the Smith College student and the conversation and analysis continues. “What might that mean? What does this say about what it means to be a child?

The project that I am describing is an innovative eight-week collaboration between Chrissy Colon-Bradt’s 6th grade class and Professor Shannon Audley-Piotrowski’s Smith course “The Child in Modern Society,” a course “that examines the experience of childhood in modern society and the ways that this experience is culturally defined and socially organized.”

The essence of the project involves the collaborative examination of primary source materials representing the lives and experiences of children from the Industrial Revolution to contemporary times. The project culminated on Monday when 6th graders and college students assembled a timeline depicting the changing nature of childhood experiences from the 1880s to the present time. The timelines, which still hang all around Ms. CB’s classroom, resemble an exhibition at a gallery or museum. Each team of researchers assembled primary source documents from books and the Smith College archives. They then analyzed each document and arranged them into a visual narrative that showed how the experience of childhood has changed over time. The curatorial exercise concluded with them creating an operative metaphor for the changes they discerned. For example, one group wrote, “Childhood is like a book. It starts out messy, gets better, but always has room for improvement once it is finished.”

In thinking about the character of learning that transpired in this collaboration, I found myself thinking about these three themes:

This was not learning history, but being a practicing historian:
We probably all have memories of “doing history” in school. The memories I conjure up involve mucking my way through dense textbooks. The history learning occurring in this project was formidably different—it involved college and SCCS students working with raw primary documents, forming ideas, developing theories, and generating hypotheses. It has been a project that embodies the genuine essence of “doing history” as a historian would do. 

In fact, in a recent article the president of the American Historical Association attempted to answer the question, as he put it, ““What do historians actually do?” He concludes that history—more than anything involves the discipline inquiry of how society changes over time. He writes,  “We most obviously emphasize more than other disciplines is change over time. While the importance of understanding how societies change over time may seem too obvious to mention, it’s worth emphasizing that it involves distinctive skills…”

The study of “change over time” was at the heart of this project and it involved another essential dimension of being a historian: working with original primary source documents.

To Ms. CB—the project enabled her to put her students into the role of being a “critical explorer.” The idea of ‘critical exploration’ derives from the work of Harvard professor Eleanor Duckworth (who was Lara Ramsey’s doctoral advisor at Harvard). Ms. Ramsey and Ms. CB met in early fall to discuss the approach of critical exploration and for Ms. CB to adapt the unit Mr. Weiner had developed on the Industrial Revolution. According to Professor Duckworth—the approach to critical exploration relies on two approaches to learning:

“First, we aim to put the learners in direct contact with the subject matter  …  a poem, or historical documents, or an arithmetic problem, or some writing that needs punctuating. Second … we find that when we are interested in the learners’ thoughts, the learners take a deepening interest in their own thoughts, too.  We find that we focus on the learners’ thoughts rather than on our own, as the engine for what generates the intellectual life of the classroom. In part this is because the learners think better that way; and in part because it is by paying attention to what they are thinking and doing that we as teachers can see how next to call on our knowledge of the subject matter—what resources to provide, what next questions to ask.  These two aspects of how we use our knowledge make for a powerful way to help people learn: depend on carefully selected aspects of the subject matter, and listen carefully to the learners’ ideas about them.”
Eleanor Duckworth, “Helping Students Get to Where Ideas Can Find Them,” The New Educator 5 : 3 (2009), pp. 185-188.

Ms. CB’s aspiration to get her students into “direct contact” with subject matter also meshed with Professor AP’s goal for her course:

This course’s larger aim is to help students develop a theoretically, historically, and culturally informed perspective on childhood and child development and to  use this knowledge to think about (and hopefully address) the dilemmas that confront children and families in modern societies. Unfortunately, most sources that record experiences of childhood are written by adults and for adults. What is missing is children’s voices, past and present.

Small group discussion with college students empowered sixth graders to think analytically and expansively.
One of the challenges of teaching involves pushing students to delve deeper. When Ms. CB and Professor AP planned this experience they imagined that the college students would take on the role of facilitator of thinking. Professor AP prepped her students to push and prod the sixth graders to expand on their thinking and describe in more depth what they observed. The sixth graders were acutely aware of this element of the activity. As one 6th grader said, “The Smith buddy helped me understand things better. Not only was she an engaging thinker, my buddy was kind. When I had an hypothesis, she would add on or say something to grow my idea to its best.”

In reflecting on the project, Ms. CB recognized that the ratio of Smith students to 6th graders enabled the discussion groups to interrogate artifacts with a depth that wouldn’t be possible in large group discussion or even just a cluster of 6th graders. “The Smith students pushed my students to interpret and critically explore the primary source documents.” As you can see by the reflections of the 6th graders, the role of college students in deepening and complicating their thinking was a key facet:

Working with my Smith student was absolutely mind blowing. She opened my mind to ideas that I had never thought about  before by asking me complicated questions. Even though I’m not a very big fan of history, she found a way to turn looking at primary documents into exploring.  It was suuuuuuuuuuper fun, and I learned a lot!

Working with a Smith student was really different. Since we were learning about how childhood changes over time, it was really beneficial to be learning WITH someone who was a child not long ago. I really liked how we go to work TOGETHER, and how neither of us knew the true answer. It helped my primary document decoding strategies to know that there is no right or wrong.

My learning has been affected by working with our Smith buddies in a big way. I definitely would rather work with them than on my own because they helped me think about the questions more deeply. They also provided good questions that they came up with. I mostly liked working with them though, because they were learning as we were and weren’t always waiting for us to figure out what they already know. I became good friends with my Smith buddy and I will miss her forever.

Learning to teach and talk with young people about ideas:
In reflecting on her experience, one of the college students who is a psychology major and an aspiring teacher wrote, “There is no better way to learn about children than being with them. No book or lecture can ever be as influential in understanding children without interacting with the children themselves.”

One of Professor AP’s goals for the project involved helping her students (many of who are aspiring teachers) to develop the pedagogical capacity to get children to think analytically, critically, and justify their positions using evidence. The ability to nudge children to think and express their views is  a fundamental skill for teachers to develop.  Developing a style to push young people to think with more sophistication entails more than just following a script of questions. Learning to talk and think with children involves a nuanced language of question asking and listening.  

I personally loved working with Smith students. I think it was great how we actually were able to talk to Smith students instead of being on the same Campus as them and not really getting to know them. I loved the idea of the whole one-on-one or two-on-one education. I learn better that way. Overall it was wonderful to get to be friends with Smith students and learn. I loved it.

A college student—who is a studio art major—described this type of learning as an “intergenerational partnership” focused on the study of children. “Thinking together—knowledge building – across generations even more exciting as knowledge building with peers, and certainly more interesting than just ‘teaching’ my partner.”

Have a great weekend, 



November 22, 2013

Dear Campus School Families:

Q: What do Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckenberg, the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosch, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and all Campus School teachers and 2nd-6th grade students have in common?

A: They have all tried their hand at computer programming.

The longer story is that a non-profit named Code.org produced a video titled “What most schools don’t teach” on how computer programming is the language American schools do not teach. The all-star cast on this short video celebrates the power and creativity of computer coding and entreats schools to expand their curriculum to include programming. According to the facts provided by Code.org-- less than 10% of high schools offer computer programming and even fewer elementary schools. This -- is a tragedy according to the video because as Black Eyed Peas star and coder Will.iam. tells us on the video in a quote that made me giggle, “Great coders are today’s rockstars.”

Watch the video here: http://code.org/learn/scratch

The point to this leadup is to say that we fall into that small minority of schools that teach computer programming Our students are learning to code and this past Wednesday-- Ms. Dasatti ran a workshop for all faculty that introduced us to the code program used at SCCS: Scratch. Here is the story of how our students learn to code:

More than 30 years ago Mary Ann Dassatti read Seymour Papert’s classic Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas. Ms. Dassatti’s background is in math and early-childhood education so encountering Papert’s work was catalytic. Papert is a mathematician from MIT who trained with the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. Papert viewed computer programming as a transformative context for children to think, explore, imagine, and tell stories. He developed a programming language called Logo where children could learn to program and explained it as the following:

Many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong.’ But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting bugs ... The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition we might all be less intimidated by our fears of ‘being wrong.’

Like Papert-- the power of technology for Ms. D involves the magic that occurs when children imagine ideas and then manipulate pixels to create worlds filled with story, color, movement, and sound. “Using computers,” Ms.  Dassatti tells me, “allows children to become makers and users. When using computers they control the environment they create. They don’t sit as passive users of technology, but they become makers.”

Our students learn to “make” through a program we use at the Campus School called Scratch. Developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab-- it’s a free computer coding program that enables children to develop complex programs on the computer. “With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community.Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.”

You can download the program on your home computer and it’s a mind-bending experience to try and learn how to program the sprites, sounds, colors, and movements. It’s daunting but with my 8-year old son Riley at my side impatiently rolling his eyes at my clumsy efforts and every now and then offering a tidbit of advice-- I learned the rudiments. While I never moved past the most crude stage of manipulating basic shapes and icons-- you could feel and sense what is possible with Scratch as a learning environment.

Any day in the computer room, you can see our students operating the icons and tools of Scratch. Ms. Dassatti gives them design tasks that involve building a maze, introducing themselves through the characters on Scratch (called Sprites), or for the older students-- the extremely complex programming challenge of inventing a game. (We can’t send links to the games, but you can see similar projects listed below).

To see more about Scratch-- see the following:

Dance Party:

DJ Scratch Cat: (Be sure to hit the letters so you can add sounds)

The energy of the technology lab feels unique to me. Students-- no matter the age-- buzz with activity, but it’s not a solo enterprise, which sometimes we associate with computers. What stands out to me when I watch students in the Lab is the intense collaboration as they work through design choices. They almost never make a choice without consulting their classmates. For example, “I just put my character here and then moved in this pattern on the screen, what do you think?” A question like that will elicit three or four responses as they crowd around a screen and then melt back to their own console. The level of interaction, revision, adjustment, and critique around concept, aesthetics, and structure is the signature aspect of this work.

Here are some reflections from 4th grade students on what they experience using Scratch:

Scratch is where you get to make games and stuff.  It can be hard if you want to make games challenging.  You can start off with easy stuff like making sprites move and say things.  When you make games you can use variables to make lives for your characters.  It’s easy once you learn how to do it. The Operators are the hardest.

I like making games with Scratch and see what I can do with scripts (programs).  I like making backgrounds and mazes.  I use Scratch at home as well as at school.  I’ve even been teaching my dad how to use it.

I started using Scratch in second grade.  There’s an orange cat and lots of other “sprites” (the characters you can program in Scratch).  You can make sprites do things.  You can make games – It’s really fun.

Scratch is an easy to learn programming language.  You can make games, videos – pretty much anything.  I like that you have the ability to program it yourself – not like just playing video games.  In Scratch you can change things any way you like.

With Scratch you can create games and little skits and stories, plays and movies.  I really like how you can pick a character and customize it.  It’s not like there’s something you have to do.  You can just open it  and figure out what to do.

Scratch is really fun.  You can design games and picture.  I like making cool backgrounds and putting crazy things on them.  Scratch can get complicated when you’re designing games, but it’s easy just to mess around in Scratch.

You can design your own thing.  It’s an inspiration to do things you never done  before.  You can do it at practically any age – and it’s fun.  In the game Abigail and I designed you get to pop bubbles. You can take pictures and make recordings.  You can become a character in your own project.

As you can see, our students love the challenge and thrill of programming. It matches what Marc Zuckerberg says in the video I referenced earlier, “I started programming and I wanted to make something fun.” That is what Ms. Dassatti loves too!


Here is sample of links and other resources to learn more about Scratch, coding, and working with children around the design of powerful ideas mediated by computers:

Mitch Resnick  MIT Media Lab, Lifelong Kindergarten

Reading, Writing, and Programming: Mitch Resnick at TEDxBeaconStreet

Scratch website

Scratch Ed – site for educators and parents

Origins of Scratch – Seymour Papert and Logo:
Mindstorms by Papert

Reviving Papert’s Dream by Mitch Resnick

News articles on SCRATCH from the New York Times:
Very Young Programmers

November 15, 2013

Dear Campus School Families:

Last week I walked into my office and my desk was covered by a teeming horde of ants.

These weren’t ordinary ants-- the kind that overrun your picnic or clamber over and around a stray piece of food on the ground. These were supersized ants in garish colors with twisty legs and swirly antennae. These were ants straight out of Jurassic Park. Standing proudly over his ant troupe stood the grinning Bob Hepner holding several clay sculptures of branches.

“How do you like what the first graders created?”

These ants and branches are the product of two ongoing projects between Mr. Hepner and the first grade teachers: Ms. Cowley and Ms. Perkins. The work and thinking being done by our first-grade artist-naturalist-scientists is a story worth sharing.

It begins -- at least in part--  in Ms. Cowley’s barn:

Last year,  shortly before school began, I was in the barn looking for a horse halter when I tripped over a discarded bird feeder. I immediately thought of the students entering my classroom and remembered that their kindergarten teachers had both reported that there were bird lovers coming my way. An image of a child sitting by our windows, watching and recording the daily activity of birds, flashed through my mind. The feeder seemed to provide the perfect opportunity for children to engage in some scientific writing, observation, and idea and theory building. I shared my idea with Al Rutnitsky, because together we believed in the importance of observation, writing for real purposes, firsthand scientific investigations, and improving ideas. The idea came into fruition.

Ms. Cowley’s reference to Professor Rudnitsky is an important part of the story; it traces back to long-standing collaborations done with Professor Al and other faculty members from the Department of Education and Child Study. Al’s research involves studying how children learn and perhaps more critically-- how children and communities learn together. His work derives conceptual inspiration from research done by cognitive psychologists Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia.  Their work advances the idea that deep learning occurs when a group pursues a question that feels urgent, open-ended, and fascinating. They advocate for a process they describe as knowledge building. The central product or outcome of knowledge building is a group deeply engaged in learning, theorizing, and sharing what they have come to understand about the question under study.

In thinking about the work that he has done with Campus School teachers and children over the years, Professor Rudnitsky notes, “Children learn to see each other intellectual resources and also come to see that their ideas can always improve. It’s through good community talk and thinking together that all this happens.“

In other words, Ms. Cowley’s class embarks on the study of ants not only to “learn about” ants, but to advance the state of knowledge. So their observations about the ant kingdom and the ants that they have created with Mr. Hepner exist as contributions to knowledge on ants that lives within the world.

It’s heady stuff, but the idea is exciting: first graders embark on a learning journey together. The methods of pursuing deeper understanding involve interactive questioning, observation, reading, dialogue, continued development of questions, research, and discussions focused on how they can deepen and improve their ideas. The old metaphor of the “teacher as the sage on the stage” becomes irrelevant with the teacher now occupying the role of the “guide on the side” for children who actively do the planning, research, and evaluating of ideas. Bereiter and Scardamalia would be delighted to see their theories of mind come to life as creepy, crawly ant study inside our classrooms.

Now back to how Ms. Cowley transitioned from birds to supersized ants:

This summer as Ms. Cowley was getting ready to launch BIRDS 2.0: The Sequel, she described having an epiphany of sorts. “The bird project was wonderful, but it occurred to me that developmentally maybe we could do something different. In studying birds, their questions were more sophisticated than their understandings. For example, they asked a wonderful question: ‘how do birds fly?’ What can be better than that question; however, flight is really hard for first graders to understand.’  Ms. Cowley’s insight turned her focus from the sky to the ground.

This year I decided to get my class an ant farm. I remember that when I was a kid I would spend hours watching ants in my backyard. I was fascinated by how they seemed to work together to find food, build tunnels and carry things much heavier than themselves.  I thought the kids in my classroom would also enjoy watching ants, but like the bird study, I had no idea how deep the learning would be.

One of Ms. Cowley’s first steps was to contact Mr. Hepner: “Bob and I have this wonderful relationship that is so rich. It begins when he walks up to me and says, ‘What are you up to-- birds again?’  

Mr. Helpner explains, “Gina and I met and I asked her, birds again? She looked at me and said, ‘no, we’re going to study ants.’ I thought wow, great! I love how Gina does these studies that emerge from where her students are. We began by looking closely at ants: pinchers, antennas, shape of the body, movement patterns in tunnels, and from there we create.”

In Ms. Cowley’s class-- the close observation of ants and an ant colony begins with wonder: What do first graders wonder about when they study and closely look at a teeming colony of ants? A bulletin board in Ms. Cowley’s room is chock full of yellow sticky notes with these wonderings:  (Note to adults: notice the ideas not the spellings)

How do ant’s dig?

How do ants wock [walk] without slipping?

Are they boys or girls?

Why do ants tunnel?

How do the tunnels stay open?

From this brainstormed list of questions, a focus question emerged: How can they tunnel without tools? This question then guided their future observations from which they generated a series of theories on how ants dig tunnels:

Tay uos tar pinsers? Or tay eyt it? [they use their pincers or they eat it]

They dont have a tool box

They bring it to the top and eat some of it

Maybe they have little clows [claws]

These theories and fascinations become guiding ideas in the formation of their ant sculptures with Mr. Hepner. As one boy told me, “Ants tap their bellies on the ground to communicate.” This idea drawn from his learning inspired his artistic representation of an ant, which he described, “My ant had no legs, but its belly touched the ground.”

In the other first-grade class the focus of study is forests and the collaboration between Ms. Perkins and Mr. Hepner follows a similar process. The goal of this project involves mounting what Mr. Hepner calls a “public beautification art project.” There is a space on the Campus School that is tucked away behind the new wing. The windows in Ms. Perkins classroom looks out onto what is essentially a concrete alley. Ms. Perkins and Mr. Hepner aspire to transform the space into a public art exhibition by having their first graders sculpt a life-sized forest.  The first installment will be the branches and trunk that the first-graders designed and sculpted during their study of trees. Each student sculpted a branch and a piece of the trunk. In designing the branch they paid attention to texture and all the patterns of geometry that comprise a branch: how they join together, how they stagger, and the math of the patterns. This year they will install the tree and in ensuing years they plan to add animals, insects, and other clay sculptures that accompany Ms. Perkin’s forest study.

What do we call this dynamic, interpenetrating conversation happening between Mr. Hepner and the first grade teachers? To resort to jargon such as interdisciplinary learning or multidisciplinary teaching feels palpably inadequate. What unfolds in the first grade between art and science represents a fusion deriving from the experience of six and seven year olds looking closely, sharing their ideas, developing theories, and testing their hypotheses. Robert Eskridge, the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, evokes how art and science seamlessly work together in an approach like knowledge building,”  “Science and art naturally overlap. Both are a means of investigation. Both involve ideas, theories, and hypotheses that are tested in places where mind and hand come together—the laboratory and studio. Artists, like scientists, study—materials, people, culture, history, religion, mythology— and learn to transform information into something else.”


Dear Campus School Families:

You probably noticed, but the school has had a little bit of that “Black Friday” day-after-Thanksgiving-energy to it this week. Instead of lines of shoppers buzzing after plasma screen televisions and video game consoles, our Campus School vibe emanated from the excitement of our book fair.

Our library, which is normally a pretty serene space with typical library signs like: “When in the library use your quiet voice”, felt like the SkippyjonJones crew had arrived. It was animated good fun as children and adults sifted through the piles of books checking out illustrations, reading snippets out loud with each other, making stacks of their favorites to purchase and lists longling described as ‘for next time.’ As one student wrote to me, and this is an exact quote,  “When my class went to the bookfair, I was soooooooooooooooooooooo excited to see books I haven’t read.”  Incidentally, we’ll be gathering for a wine and cheese from 6:30-8:30 -- which conveniently dovetails with the Kid’s Night Out.  Thank you again for the wonderful work done on the part of all who volunteered to make this a special week at the Campus School.
One of my favorite moments of the Book Fair week began underneath the portico during pickup. A boy came over to me holding his grandpa’s hand. “Mr. Intrator, is the book fair still open?”

I told him it was and he pulled his grandpa up the steps. “Grandpa, I have to show you all the great books” and led his Grandpa into the school. A few minutes later I saw that our enterprising Campus School student had talked grandpa into buying him quite the impressive stack!

My takeaway watching this community event that included two riveting lectures for students by Angela and Tony DiTerlizzi that had our children laughing with delight as they shared how the stories they write and illustrate are rooted in the stories they read when they were children and how all ideas flow through that mystical force of mind we know as imagination. During his lecture Tony D-- or as he told the group ‘T-Dog’-- flashed a picture of Albert Einstein on the screen and cracked us all up by telling us about his own encounters with book reports, before turning serious and sharing this quote Einstein, which I have been thinking about since:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  

As I thought more about the book fair this week and it’s contribution to the “more fairy tales” equation of getting more intelligent, I came to realize that it represented our community coming together to celebrate our collective love and passion for books, reading, and story. This is a beautiful and powerful thing. This book fair is not just about ‘selling books’ or ‘exposing us to new titles’, but instead it showcases a core and essential value of our community: reading for pleasure is part of who we are.

I don’t want to overstate or exaggerate the claim that cultivating the yearning and habits of ‘reading for pleasure’ represent ‘an educational panacea’, but when you start to look at the research on the positive effects that unfold when children read for pleasure, I start wondering, deeply wondering if the fascination with testing and accountability systems hold up to the simple and enduring power.

In a report commissioned by National Literacy Trust on Reading for Pleasure, they describe the far-ranging outcomes:

When children read for pleasure, when they get “hooked on books”, they acquire, involuntarily and without conscious effort, nearly all of the so-called “language skills” many people are so concerned about: they will become adequate readers, acquire a large vocabulary, develop the ability to understand and use complex grammatical constructions, develop a good writing style, and become good (but not necessarily perfect) spellers.

They also review a range of studies that point to the positive impact on achievement:

general knowledge

a better understanding of other cultures

community participation

a greater insight into human nature and decision-making

And recently there was a much talked about  NY Times article “For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov” that reported on conclusions from a research published in the journal Science Reading Literary Fiction Improves the Theory of Mind. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

It’s a fascinating article and the researchers conclude that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.

Given all these findings, I thought it would be fascinating for us as educators and parents to have some advice from a group of experts on what we can do to cultivate reading for pleasure and instill a passion for reading outside of school. In this spirit, I took my questions into Ms. Colon-Bradt’s sixth grade classroom and asked them to share their thoughts on reading out of school and reading for pleasure. They wrote up little note cards as letters. I provide some of the key themes below, but will begin by sharing one notecard in full:

Dear Mr. Intrator:
Gosh, I don’t really know what to say. I mean you could hang me upside-down and I would still be reading! Well I supposed I could tell you about my dream of reading on a cloud, or in a tree. One night after promptly reading (unauthorized by flashlight) before bed, I woke up thinking about traveling to wondrous places and exploring all kinds of new books! It was fabulous! That was the best dream I have ever had!
I hope dreams of good books come your way,

The importance of special places for reading:
I love to read. I love reading outside, inside at night, in the day, at school, at home traveling, sitting, lying down in a quiet place or a LOUD place.

I like to read in a very comfy place. Maybe in my bed or on my couch. Once I am comfy I do not move. I could stay there forever.

My favorite place to read is the chair in my living room with a good goodk, a glass of water. I’ve been known in to sit in my chair for hours devouring my books until my parents make me leave for dinner.

I love reading on my couch with the windows open during the fall. It’s so beautiful. I love fantasy adventure. Percy Jackson is my favorite series.

When do they read?
I always read in my bed at night. I turn on my bedside lamp and crack open a good book. If I get to bed on time I usually read for about an hour before turning off my light and falling asleep.

I really like reading early in the morning before school.

I love to read a good book in the morning when I awaken.

I like to read at night before I go to bed. I also like to read with my family. My mom and dad read aloud to my brother and I.

How do they find titles that they enjoy and what is the role of choice?
I know people say not to judge a book by its cover, but when I see a book cover that I like I read the book and…..I like it!” So-- don’t judge a book by its cover unless it’s a compliment.

Even though I love reading everywhere, I am very particular about the books that I read. I mostly like fiction stories about adventures and magic, but I always love going to the bookstore or library and branching out.
My favorite way to get new books is through recommendations. I am always interested to know what my friends are reading and I enjoy talking about books with them.
Usually I get recommendations from my friends who have the same taste as me. Then I go to the bookstore and browse and see if I see it there. My older sister also recommends a lot of books for me. When I am in between books, I will read one of those really cheesy, predictable books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- I have read the series 11 times-- but only until I find a new, good book.

I love reading! I read lots of different kinds of books. I love getting recommendations from my friends, who often have very different tastes for books. I love getting lost in a world, different or similar from mine, with intriguing characters, plots, and settings. I always look forward to a time where I can read.

I used to be in a book club, but it didn’t really work. I will start a new one soon with friends. I love book clubs because I get recommendations from friends and I get to talk about books, which is something I love to do. I LOVE it!

What about when reading is hard?

I sometimes have a hard time sitting still and reading. I just get too bored, but I love listening to stories and I walk around with books on my mom’s phone listening to Audible. I can do that for ever and I can often do other things while I’m listening.

When I was younger I did not really enjoy reading, but last year when I was in 5th grade my dad came home with a book in his hands called Wonder! It was one of the best books I have ever read! And ever since, I have been glued to reading!  Sometimes I can’t find “the right book,” and when that happens I either ask my parents , or I just pick one.

And some suggestions by our teachers:

The oldie, but goodie- read together everyday or almost every day.  Try to extend the book into everyday life.  Compare daily activities in the book to your family's life.  Look into cooking food or listening to music or viewing art or visiting places that are mentioned in the book.

Make things in the book come to life.  Build something, act it out, draw pictures, make a map.

Extend the topic with other materials- watch the movie and compare, read a book review, find out more about the author or illustrator.  Read more books by the same author.

Go to places that glorify reading- Go to the Eric Carle Museum, go to Modern Myths, go to the library.

Sharing books through read-alouds is vital to encouraging an enjoyment of literature – and embedding vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation in young children’s minds.  In addition to reading aloud as a parent, listening to audio books together is a great way to share reading and multi-task – drive, fix dinner, do chores.  And discuss, discuss, discuss.  Make reading and discussion of books are regular and frequent part of your day!

So the takeway from our group of experts… they love reading with their family and their friends. This is wholly consistent with all the research, which shows that when children grow up in a context where reading is a revered and pleasurable activity---many good things happen….



Past Observations:

November 8: Observations from Head of School Click here >>
The Book Fair and Love of Learning

November 1st: Observations from Head of School Click here >>
The Fifth grade Play - Group L5

October 25th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>
President McCartney visits the Campus School

October 18th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>
The Long Look: Faculty and Peer-Education

October 11th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>
Thinking about the Common Core

October 4th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>
Connections with the College - Smith Students at the Campus School

September 27th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>

September 20th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>

September 13th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>

September 6th: Observations from Head of School Click here >>

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