Nursery 3 uses project-based learning to engage students and reach academic goals. The majority of the students expressed great interest in music, so we decided together to take on a study of musical instruments.
We began by having several experts visit our classroom to demonstrate different instruments. Students researched the instruments and came up with a list of questions to have answered. After all that information gathering, we decided that our culminating experience should be to make instruments based on what was learned, using recycled materials when possible.
The students applied what they knew about the different instrument families when thinking about what materials they needed to make things like a drum or the pipes of a brass instrument. The challenge with the project-based method of teaching is that we have to guide students to our learning goals (emerging literacy, number sense, social-emotional development) without knowing exactly where their questions will take us and how the project will unfold.
Literacy developed as we talked about unfamiliar word sounds and wrote the names of newly-learned instruments. We used math as we tallied votes on which questions to ask or to count the keys on a xylophone. Drawing the instruments developed students’ observation skills, and collaboration was a constant as we worked as a group to decide how to research and share what we had learned.
Children took what they learned about one instrument and applied it to a new one from the same family — i.e. inferring how pipes, a bell, or strings impacted the sound — and quickly internalized and used new vocabulary, even taking their new terms like valves, tuners, kick drum and frets into dramatic play sessions. At the end of the school year we shared what we learned with the community through a museum walk to view our hand-made instruments and a performance with our very own class band, the Nursery 3 Rock Star Band.
Our philosophy around educational technology at Town is centered on a key question: does it truly enhance or extend learning? The prosthetic hands project came up as we were looking for innovative applications of 3-D printers in our math curriculum (last year math classes designed and printed custom water bottles). We learned of an organization called Enabling the Future that has created and shared open-source files so that anyone can print and assemble prosthetic hands that can be used by real people all over the world. This felt like a great fit with Town’s belief in the strength of combining academics with skills like empathy, collaboration and problem-solving. As a class we learned more about the organization, Mr. Becker printed the many small components of the hands on our 3-D printers, and we got to work.
The students started with a pile of parts and worked in small teams to come up with a plan, making use of the tools available to them: pliers as a stabilizer or a drill to make small modifications to pieces that weren’t quite perfect. They were building a functioning hand from photos, so things like the tension in the elastic connecting the fingers had to be tested and adjusted as they went. The students committed fully to this project. The idea that someone might really use the hand they were building made their standard of achievement extremely high; they were unwilling to just move on from a roadblock or not-quite-perfect outcome, because that was not going to be good enough for the possible real-world, real-human application of this project.
Many students had their biggest successes in math class with this project and in contrast, some students who were not used to struggling with math suddenly had to work much harder. For everyone, though, this was an important break from a largely virtual world, as they transferred theoretical knowledge into the physical challenge of making and building a complex object. We also loved how this project captured the imagination of other grades. Our 3-D printers are in tech spaces shared by the whole school, so our Lower School students monitored the progress of the printing and often asked the 7th graders about the progress of the hands. In case you’re asking “is this math?” — yes, but it’s also engineering, it’s ‘maker,’ and most importantly it’s another route to developing core abilities we work towards together in math such as analysis, collaboration, problem-solving from different directions and perseverance.
Town’s optional before-school dance club, Town Grooves, is made up of Lower and Upper School students interested in diving deeper into choreography and creating dances to share with their fellow students at assemblies. In the past they have collaborated to present dances telling stories such as Peter Pan or The Lorax, or to share dance traditions from around the world.
This spring, Town Grooves: Common Thread partnered with a class at the American School of Madrid. Both Town students and American School students learned the bachata, a dance from the Dominican Republic, during the month of April. We then collaborated in creating a dance together. The students in Madrid choreographed two counts of eight for our Town students to learn, using the rhythm of the bachata, and then our Town students sent choreography to the Madrid students the following week. The exchange happened through video recordings due to the time difference. Town students included the choreography created by and for the students in Madrid in their culminating performance in the May All School Assembly, along with some special Town faculty and staff guest performers.