Since McGuffey has mixed-age classes, we often get asked how we teach subjects to a wide range of ages and abilities. In subjects such as language and math, children have an individualized curriculum. However, in science and social studies, we are often learning together.
In Lower Elementary, science and social studies instruction often happens as a group, but associated projects are differentiated for each grade. These subjects are taught in a blended curriculum, explored through the lens of biomes. The six characteristics of a biome influence the ecosystem, and the ecosystem, in turn, influences the culture that develops.
First and second graders receive instruction together. As seen in the examples above, first graders are introduced to the elements of a biome, and begin to explore how animals and plants rely on one another in a food chain. During this time, second graders have a chance to review the concepts they were introduced to the previous year, and then build upon them. During this unit, first graders were asked to illustrate the elements of a biome and a food chain that exists within the temperate forest. Second graders were asked to plan, design, and build a three dimensional biome. After choosing the tropical forest, they sketched out their ideas and compiled a materials list. Together, they constructed their model.
Third graders have separate instructional time, which often takes the form of a workshop. As a group, they discuss a biome, research plants and animals, examine the weather and its impact, and investigate the cultures that have emerged. One day they might be researching a reptile of the temperate forest, and the next they may be graphing the impact of settlers on the acreage of forest over time.
Throughout the grades, students are given a variety of ways to communicate their knowledge about a topic. The first and second graders recently completed a play that describes the food chain in the temperate forest. We are impressed with all their hard work!
Upper Elementary has been studying cell biology, using models, books, online resources and three part cards to study the organelles of animal cells. Each student made a play dough model of a cell. In the student-made cell above, you can see the nucleus, nucleolus, cell membrane, cytoskeleton, mitochondria, rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum, centriole, and a lysosome. This week, Upper Elementary students stained their own cheek cells and looked at them under a microscope. A cheek cell belonging to one of our fourth-graders is pictured. The nucleus is at the center, and the tiny dark blue dots are normal oral bacteria.
Middle School students have been studying genetics. They began the unit with Mendelian genetics, making little creatures called Bloops (and their chromosomes) to study dominant and recessive traits. After creating a Bloop and finding out its genetic makeup and sex, students crossed their Bloops, creating baby Bloops that inherited traits from their parents. Several Bloop families are pictured above.
Next, they investigated the cell cycle, the structure of DNA and the process of DNA replication at the molecular level using foam models, and took a look at Watson and Crick’s original paper on the double helix from 1953.
This week, they modeled the transcription of genes into messenger RNA. Next week, they will work on translation, and finish the unit by isolating the DNA from strawberries.
Over the last few weeks, we have been observing the changes in our environment that occur during the season of fall. The leaves have been changing color, birds can be seen flying south, squirrels and other animals are gathering food for the winter. We notice that we are wearing long pants and sweaters to keep warm as the temperatures drop.
In the meantime, we are reading books about fall and exploring all kinds of leaf activities—sorting, matching, punching, and making crayon rubbings. We’re assembling puzzles about the seasons. We had a fantastic visit from a McGuffey parent, Ashley Johnson, whose family owns Reserve Run Farm. She showed us two different types of hay that had been harvested in recent weeks and we got to see a video of their family running the machinery used in the fields. We learned about preserving food for both animals and people so that it will last longer and the sweetest part of all, we got to taste their delicious honey.
On Wednesday, October 31st the eighth-grade class began their service learning work at the Oxford Family Resource Center. They will be volunteering there for the month of November.
On their first visit, they were oriented to the facilities by director Diana Ruther-Vierling and Missy Thompson. Our students learned about the many ways the Center helps the marginalized people in Oxford: housing assistance, job assistance, the thrift store, and support for Oxford’s growing homeless community.
This week our students helped out in the thrift store by tagging items and removing older items from the rack to send on to the Salvation Army. Next week we will return and help organize the supplies they hand out to homeless citizens of Oxford. We are very fortunate to be able to partner with the Oxford Family Resource Center as we add service learning to our middle school curriculum.
McGuffey students study a different instrument family in music each grade. Third graders have been learning about and exploring woodwind instruments of the orchestra: oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, flute and piccolo. They learned that in order to be considered a woodwind, the instrument must be played with either breath traveling over a mouthpiece (the flute and piccolo) or through a cane reed (the oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone). To give them the experience of one of those distinguishing features, these students had an opportunity to make their own double-reed from a straw. They learned that the shape needs to be pretty precise and were reminded that the shorter the instrument (or straw), the higher the pitch. They also learned that using a reed takes lots of practice and is best learned with copious amounts of laughter.
McGuffey students recently attended a performance of Jing-Ju Opera presented by the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts. Jing-Ju Opera, combines music, singing, mime, dance, and acrobatics. Jing-Ju Opera costumes are graceful, with handcrafted embroidery. The makeup is rich in color, depicting different characters with remarkable facial painting.
After the performance, our students had a chance to talk with the performers and ask questions about their craft.
Although Oxford is a small town, our proximity to Miami University exposes our students to a wide variety of cultures and experiences. Special thanks to Howard Blanning for including us in the opera this year!
As we continue our exploration of South America, we began talking about Argentina. A large country, Argentina stretches across the southern half of South America, which means its landscape has a range of climates and geographic features.
With a mix of indigenous people and European immigrants, the Argentine culture is rich in music, dance, food, and traditions. Our students have the opportunity to explore many of these characteristics through the manipulatives on the shelves. They are exploring gourd cups that hold the Argentine tea, mate. We’ve also talked about the delicious milk caramel, dulche de leche.
We discussed Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), a series of caves located in Santa Cruz, Argentina. It is known for its paintings of hands which are estimated to be between 13,000 and 9,000 years old. The cave also has paintings of humans, animals, and geometric patterns. For this Social Study unit Art History installment we decided to make our own version of the Cave of Hands. We studied a picture of one of the cave walls and noticed all of the hands were very similar, the left! The students chose which shade to paint their left hand then imagined they were placing their hand on the wall of a cave. Creating this experience makes the connections so much more meaningful!
This week we began talking about the solar system. We hung models of eight planets and the sun in our classroom so that the children could get an idea of how the solar system might look in space. When children ask how many planets we have, the answer isn’t always easy. In 2006, Pluto was classified as a dwarf planet, and no longer considered part of “the planets.” However, the most current thinking would say that we have 13 planets. This includes eight classical planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) and five dwarf planets (Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, Eris).
We continued our discussion of the solar system by talking about stars and space. Sometimes it’s hard for children to think about stars being huge, especially when they look so small from Earth. We tried to imagine how big they were, and tried to wrap our heads around the fact that the sun is actually a star.
We thought about space travel and riding in a spacecraft. With our art shelf stocked with special black paper, there was a lot of drawing and writing about the planets as our imaginations tried to keep up with these big ideas.
Lower Elementary recently spent the morning with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, attending a Young People’s Concert at Music Hall. These performances are geared toward elementary aged children, encouraging audience participation and appreciation.
After the performance, we headed to nearby Washington Park to eat lunch and stretch our legs. While we were there, we ran into one of the CSO’s guest performers, drummer Baku Moses. He was enjoying the sunshine with his two sons and graciously agreed to take a photo with us.
Field trips like this are important on so many levels, from being exposed to the world of classical music to spending time in a big city.
On Friday, October 5, we begin our annual SOAR program at recess. SOAR is both a fundraiser and a Physical Education activity that promotes walking, running and goal setting. Students set a goal for their own mileage and then run or walk during recess for two weeks. They collect a “foot” charm for each mile to add to their SOAR necklace.
This year you can donate through our website or send in cash or check as usual. Parents are also able to make their donation through TADS by sending an email to the office.
By making a SOAR donation, you will support our capital fund to develop our playground and enhance our outdoor spaces. All donations to McGuffey’s SOAR program are tax deductible.