Oceans in Primary

This week we are studying oceans. We talked about the different kinds of life in the ocean, and about what ocean animals eat. Then we explored the idea that the ocean has different zones. Each zone is inhabited by its own set of plants and animals, which have adapted to that particular  environment. We read the book Down, Down, Down by Steve Jenkins. This book takes you from the surface of the ocean through the sunlight zone, the twilight zone, the dark zone, and all the way down to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, almost seven miles below the surface.

Students have been investigating, sorting, and counting shells. They have been “diving” in the ocean in our outdoor classroom, and exploring the wide variety of animals that inhabit the waters.

Posted in Primary, science

Last week we started talking about an exciting African country—Egypt! The tricky part of talking about Egypt is finding a balance between investigating all the fascinating aspects of the ancient civilization while still emphasizing that the modern Egypt has cities and cars and children who live lives quite similar to their own. We read books about Egypt, and what it’s like to live there. We talked about how Cairo is a huge city, and that most Egyptians are Muslim.

Once we felt everyone had a good handle on modern Egypt, we dove into talking about pharaohs, pyramids, hieroglyphs, and mummies. We emphasized that mummies are not alive, contrary to what we sometimes see in books and movies. We talked about how challenging it was to build a pyramid, and the maze of passages and chambers that lay inside.

Our students have loved exploring Egypt with their hands—building pyramids with our blocks inside and constructing their own pyramids outside. They also created a cartouche necklace by using hieroglyphs to represent their name.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fossils and Dinosaurs

This week we are talking about dinosaurs and fossils. We talked about how dinosaurs came to be, when they lived, what modern animals they are related to, and how they became extinct.  To everyone’s delight, we set out our collection of replica dinosaurs. These replicas are from the Carnegie Museum series, ranging from 1:10 to 1:60 in scale, and painted to reflect scientists’ best guesses on what each dinosaur might have looked like. Accuracy in dinosaurs is very important at this age, as many of our students are already experts. Children also explored dinosaurs by cutting them out of play dough, counting and sorting them, reading many different books about them, and playing dinosaur games.

This week, we also talked about fossils and how they are formed, reenacting the cycle with play dough. Students were so inspired, they got fossil books to compare with the fossils in our outdoor classroom. Kindergarteners became paleontologists and used the scientific method to find “fossils” in chocolate chip cookies. What a delicious Kindergarten studio!

Posted in Primary, science, Uncategorized

Valentine bags

Hands down, one of our students’ favorite days is when we get to meet with our Upper Unit Partners. Last week we worked on Valentine bags in preparation for the holiday. There were lots of hearts—and hugs!

Posted in partners

The Structure of the Earth and Rocks


This week, students in Primary are studying rocks and the Earth. We talked about the three types of rock and how each type of rock is part of the rock cycle. Molten rock fromed beneath the earth’s crust is brought to the surface by volcanoes. After the lava cools, this igneous rock can be transformed into sedimentary or metamorphic rock. Then it can be pushed deep inside the earth again, where it will melt and the cycle will start again.

We demonstrated these three kinds of rocks with soft candy—adding pressure to simulate sedimentary rocks, some heat and pressure for metamorphic rocks, and a lot of heat for igneous rocks. We watched the components of dirt separate when mixed with water and allowed to settle and erupted our volcano model. We also sliced open a hard boiled egg to see that it has layers similar to our planet.

This topic has led to numerous drawings and the writing of books showing the incredible information gained by studying rocks.

Posted in Primary, science, Uncategorized

Light and Sound

This week we are exploring light and sound! As part of our exploration of light we used a prism to separate sunlight into the colors of the rainbow. Children also used mirrors to bounce light from one surface to another, and found out what they looked like in a mirror that was convex or concave. Other students used a flashlight and colored plastic paddles to change the color of light.

When energy causes an object to vibrate, the vibrations travel through the air to our eardrums, and we hear a sound! We investigated sound in several different ways. Using a Slinky, we tried to imagine how sound travels through the air in waves. We explored the connection between the size and shape of an object and the sounds it can make, trying out a rubber band and box “guitar” and listening to the pitches of tuning forks.

Posted in Uncategorized

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Tuesday we talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his significance in history. At this age, we try to find a gentle way to talk about this subject.

We began with a basket of eggs in a variety of colors. We gave each child an egg and asked them describe it—color, size, and shape. Then one at a time, we asked for the eggs back, cracking them into a big bowl. What we noticed was that while the shells of the eggs looked very different, for the most part, the insides of the eggs looked very much the same.

We talked about how this was much like people—we look very different, but on the inside we are very much the same. We told the children that this was the work of Dr. King, to spread the idea that he felt all people should be treated equally, regardless of the differences we might see on the outside. We all deserve love, respect, and a chance to thrive.

We finished our meeting by reading a book which contained an excerpt of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Posted in Uncategorized


Second graders have been busy learning the pentatonic scale, both aural and written, and have been learning to sight-sing different patterns. A pentatonic scale is a scale with only 5 tones. The word “pentatonic” comes from the Greek “pente” meaning 5 and the Latin “tonicus” meaning tone. Pentatonic scales are very useful in learning music theory as well as composing music. Most Western folk music is composed using a pentatonic scale.

Today, students were given cards on which were printed various patterns of solfege in the pentatonic scale: do, re, me, sol, la. Each student chose favorite patterns and arranged them in a way that sounded pleasing to them the only “rule” being that the song had to end on do. After some practice, composers became performers as they played their songs for the class.

Posted in Lower Elementary, music

Simple Machines

This week we began our science unit on simple machines. We discussed how simple machines were some of the very first pieces of technology that humans invented, in order to do more work than they could with their muscle power alone. We built a marble ramp to show how and inlined plane can move objects. Using Lego Duplo pieces, we built a seesaw that acts as a lever, allowing one Lego person to balance two Lego people on the other side of the seesaw if she is sitting further away from the center than they are. We also built a Lego car to show how wheels and axles allow us to move heavy weights along a flat surface. Gears, wheels with teeth, can be connected to cause a complex chain of events.

Posted in Primary, science

Click for McGuffey When You Shop on Amazon.com


As you do your holiday shopping, please remember to use the McGuffey Amazon.com link. Simply start your session by clicking the Amazon logo in the upper right-hand corner of any page on the McGuffey website. This will take you straight to Amazon, but your transaction will be tagged with McGuffey’s ID. We typically receive 6% of your final purchase price, which can add up to quite a bit over time.

Please share this link with family and friends and encourage them to use it. It’s an easy way that friends, family, and alumni can help support McGuffey.

Please note, McGuffey will not receive a percentage of items saved in your cart if they were placed more than 24 hours after you started at our website. To fix this, please take a moment to take the items out of your cart and replace them.

Orders made on the Amazon phone app contribute to this program but at a lower rate.

Using the Amazon link raises several thousand dollars each year by simply taking the time to make one extra click. Please support us with this simple fundraising effort!

Posted in announcements, fundraising, McGuffey