Babysitters in Training

IMG_3886While school is out for summer, twelve of our students came back to school all day today for babysitter training by the Fitton YMCA. This is an extension of our Practical Life curriculum. Students learned how to care for infants, toddlers and pre-adolescents and some basic first aid. Thank you to Suzanne from the YMCA!

Posted in Middle School, practical life, Uncategorized, Upper Elementary, upper unit

2016 Egg Drop

Egg Drop 2015

At the Last Day of School Potluck, Wednesday, May 25, we will hold our annual Egg Drop. This is a tradition at McGuffey that goes back decades!

Prior to the last day of school, students will spend time at home designing a package that will hold a fresh egg. This “vehicle” will keep it from breaking when it has been thrown off the roof over the kitchen onto cold, hard cement.

For novices, the use of bubble wrap is appropriate, however, as the years creep by, many students begin to consider packaging that is more creative and “engineered.”

Although no dangerous materials are permitted, creativity is much revered. There is much respect for innovative schemes, even when they don’t succeed.

– Raw eggs only! No eggs may be hard-boiled.
– No dangerous materials may be used.
– Students may not go on the roof at any time for any reason.
– Egg packages should be delivered to the collection point when they arrive at school.
– Only the designated adult may drop eggs from the roof.
– Students must stay behind the designated “drop zone” boundary.

Good luck and get busy creating!

Posted in announcements, community, Lower Elementary, McGuffey, Middle School, Primary, Upper Elementary

McGuffey’s Performance of Alice in Wonderland Jr.

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We’d like to extend a belated congratulations to our entire school community—students, parents and staff—for two successful performances of Alice in Wonderland, Jr. earlier this month. Everyone works so hard on all aspects of the show and our students grew in so many ways over the months of work they put in. The show was terrific! Thanks as always to our wonderful director, Elizabeth Taylor, as well as our photographer this year, Shawn Burt.

Posted in drama, McGuffey, music

Plants in Primary


The Primary unit recently began their unit on plants. Spring is the perfect time to talk about plants as they begin growing all around us! We’ll be watching our vegetable garden grow as our discussion progresses.

First we talked about roots and stems. Roots are typically the first part to emerge from a seed, drawing in water and nutrients and keeping the plants firmly in place. We had many examples of roots on our shelf—beets, radishes, carrots, and turnips.

Then we discussed stems, which move water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves. We put celery in a jar of red water which allows us to observe the movement of water from the jar to the top of the celery.

When we are in our outdoor classroom, we have been observing the plants as they emerge from the ground and the leaves appearing on the trees. Simply being in the outdoors can be one of the greatest learning experiences we can provide!

We will continue to talk about additional parts of the plant in the coming weeks.

Posted in McGuffey, Primary, science

Zen Gardens

zen3 zen2 zen1 zen4zen6Upper Elementary students recently created personal zen sand gardens. While this project seemed quick and simple at first, students soon realized it was one that required patience. Glue must be allowed to dry completely, sanding must be done carefully, and the clear finish brushed onto the wood required drying time before sand colors and accessories could be chosen. Huge thanks to parent Peter Lask for cutting over 30 sets of wood parts for us!

Posted in art, parents

In A Pickle with Students from Grade 3

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Today, students in Grade 3 learned how to play a card game called In a Pickle. This game involves working with abstract and concrete nouns, and determining which nouns are “bigger” and “smaller” than others (distinctions that can also be understood in both concrete and abstract terms). For instance, if one of the cards on the table displayed the word “pickle,” a player would select one of his or her own cards and then either place it on top of “pickle” if their noun could conceivably fit inside a pickle (smaller), or behind “pickle” if their noun could conceivably contain a pickle (larger).

Other players can then continue to play their own cards on the table in this manner, or they can challenge each other’s assertions. This is where the game becomes interesting, as the player being challenged is allowed to give a one-sentence justification of his or her choice, and the rest of the players then vote on whether or not the card should stay in play.

An example from today’s game to help clarify how this might work occurred when one student attempted to place a card displaying the word “advertisement” behind a card on the table that displayed the word “museum.” Other players challenged this assertion (that an advertisement could be larger than a museum), and the student who played the card gave the following justification: “An advertisement can be all over the world.” (While this explanation was enough to change a few players’ minds, the move was ultimately voted down by a narrow margin.)

This game is a great activity to help stretch students’ thinking from the concrete realm to the abstract! Thanks to Nancy for donating the game to the Lower Elementary classroom.

Posted in Lower Elementary

Lower Elementary’s Birdhouse Gourds


Last spring, Lower Elementary students planted birdhouse gourd seeds along part of the fence of their outdoor classroom. The seeds were quite successful, yielding around 20 gourds! Our current Lower Elementary students harvested the gourds and pruned their stems and leaves during autumn, and the gourds rested and dried out over the winter.

Now that spring has arrived, approaching a full year since the seeds were planted, students have begun preparing the gourds to be used as birdhouses. Students cleaned and scraped the gourds, and with Ingrid’s assistance, they began using various handheld tools to carve holes in the gourds. Once the holes were carved, students began gutting the gourds and sorting through the seeds inside, counting them out and bagging them in groups of ten. Our class counted and bagged over three thousand gourd seeds! Students also helped attach labels to the bags. These seeds will be distributed throughout the community.

As for the gourds themselves, they are currently in the process of being painted and decorated. Our students have decided to give some of the gourds to next year’s incoming first graders, some to our neighbors on Westgate Drive, and to place the rest of them around school grounds.

And, of course, students will also be planting another crop of birdhouse gourds before the school year is over!

Posted in community, Lower Elementary, practical life

Antarctica guest speaker


Dr. Richard Lee visited Primary last week, and talked to us about his work in Antarctica at Palmer Station. He shared stories of the long journey, life in Antarctica, and the animals that live in the area. He also brought many interesting items with him and let our students try on the cold weather gear he used in the Antarctic.

He let us observe some preserved specimens of the insects he studies while he is there. These tiny flies are actually the largest land animal in Antarctica. We’d like to extend special thanks to Dr. Lee for taking time out of his day to visit us—we learned so much!

Posted in guest speakers, McGuffey, Primary, science, social studies

The Montessori Method: Independence


This is the first in a series of blog posts about the Montessori method that we will be publishing in the upcoming weeks. We hope that sharing these insights into Maria Montessori’s methodology and the ways we have chosen to apply it in our classrooms at McGuffey might help our parents and community members feel more confident in and empowered by the many small choices that our teachers and students make every day and the broader educational goals that these choices contribute to.

One of the most crucial features of a Montessori classroom is the ability for students to exercise their independence on a daily basis. Independence is a core element of a Montessori education, and it’s one of the biggest skills that teachers try to instill within their students.

In a Montessori classroom, students have many freedoms of choice: the freedom to move around the classroom’s physical space as they like, the freedom to choose where they would like to work and what they would like to work on, and the freedom to choose when to take a break and have a snack or use the restroom, to name a few. An important caveat to these freedoms, however, is that all of the choices within students’ reach have been meticulously and intentionally placed in the classroom by the Montessori teachers. This results in students feeling empowered to exercise their independence within the classroom, with the added benefit of confidence that whatever work they choose to do has been vetted and approved by their teachers beforehand. Even materials and activities that are not on a student’s weekly work plan are available for their choice, as these too have been placed in the classroom to serve a specific educational need or interest.

One thing that this independence does not include is the freedom to choose to interrupt or distract other students in the classroom. Particularly as students move upward in age, they are often drawn toward working in small groups, or doing their own work while sitting next to other students. If a student begins to interrupt or distract those around him or her, a teacher will begin a routine that, while unique to each educator’s own style, will generally begin with a soft, kindly-spoken observation to the student (“I notice that you are beginning to distract the students who are working next to you,“) and if the behavior continues, will result in the student losing an aspect of his or her freedom to choose (“Since you have continued to distract those around you, I will be choosing your work space for you until the work period has ended“).

This sets the example that teachers will not permit any student’s work to be continually disrupted; even students who temporarily lose their freedom to choose their work space will internalize this example, and know that their own work will also be protected from disruptions in the classroom. For this same reason, teachers in a Montessori classroom do their best to minimize any changes to the daily schedule that would intrude upon or shorten the daily work period, as the work period is the heart of the school day and the time when students can most freely exercise their independence.

One aspect of a Montessori classroom that at first might seem unusual to an observer unfamiliar with the Montessori method is that he or she won’t see teachers “helping” their students with certain tasks or in certain situations where other kinds of educators might intervene. “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed,” said Maria Montessori. In Montessori classrooms, children serve themselves and sometimes prepare their own snacks, and they use bowls, plates, and glasses made out of breakable materials. If a glass is broken, a student will likely help sweep up the pieces. Students use vacuum cleaners that might sometimes be taller than they are. They rake leaves, sweep porches, compost food scraps, and determine which materials can be recycled and which cannot. They keep track of their own work, their own materials, and their own belongings. They learn how to use tools for woodworking, and how to maintain proper safety when using those tools. They do science experiments that include lit flames. Teachers are always close at hand and observing the children as they work, but very rarely will they intervene with a child’s actions unless it becomes absolutely necessary to do so.

Additionally, our teachers have intentionally cultivated “the freedom to fail” in each of our classrooms. While this might sound dramatic, it is actually a critical step in developing self-motivated learners. Within reason, Montessori teachers will sometimes make the choice not to intervene when they notice that a student is not completing his or her work. It’s important to know that this does not mean that a child’s teacher will turn a blind eye to that child’s academic progress; rather, the teacher becomes even more observant of the child in order to determine why he or she is avoiding or struggling with the given work.

There are a nearly infinite number of reasons why a student might be neglecting to complete a certain activity or to move forward in a certain content area: the work might be too difficult, or too easy; the work might need to be re-presented to the student if he or she did not understand the first presentation; the child might be taking advantage of a sensitive period in their learning within which he or she is focusing deeply on another content area, or an aspect of his or her social development; or the child might be expressing a preference in his or her learning style that can indicate to the teacher that the work should be framed in a different manner, or should utilize a different kind of material. Many of these possibilities would be overlooked by insisting that a child must complete the work that he or she has been given, and must do so under a strict timetable. Valuable knowledge about a child’s inner life could be potentially lost or ignored if a teacher does not actively cultivate an environment where students have the independence to “fail” to complete their work occasionally (or even often) without the fear of punishment or retribution from the teacher.

Posted in McGuffey, Montessori method

Car Safety Testing in Upper Elementary

P1060251 P1060250 P1060253 P1060277 P1060285 P1060283Upper Unit Students have studying Physical Science since spring break. As part of their work with force, speed, and Newton’s Laws of Motion, Upper Elementary students designed, built, and crash-tested cars this week.

Each car had a plastic egg passenger which needed to be protected while riding as fast as possible down a steep ramp and then crashing into a wall of books. In addition to making the cars as fast and safe as possible, students had to make their cars comfortable, fun, and stylish in order to appeal to their egg customers.

Students listened to the design parameters, designed, built, tested, and modified their vehicles within a strict time limit, and then presented their car’s features during a final crash test. The variety of designs was impressive, and the engineering process a success: every egg passenger survived their wild ride without a scratch.

Posted in Uncategorized