January 19, 2017

Tying It All Together

On Wednesday this week, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to do something that I used to do every day – for twenty years.  I got to be a classroom teacher for a whole morning….and I loved every minute of it.

Our middle school faculty presented me with this welcome opportunity.  They had planned a morning for the whole team to meet and to map out their integrated curriculum for the rest of the semester and invited me to cover their classes. Three and a half hours of uninterrupted kid time! For an educator who spends more time in meetings, and not enough time with children, I jumped at the chance.

In homeroom, the 6th graders talked with me about the ways they keep track of assignments – in paper planners and on their online Schoology calendars.  We spent time discussing the upcoming inauguration of the new president – these kids have opinions and aren’t afraid to express them!  And then I taught them a dying art.

Unintentionally, my tie collection has become a talking point as I connect with students in all our buildings.  At the front door of the elementary school, kids are often curious about which tie I chose to wear that day. It’s a fun way for us to connect on something simple and not directly related to school.

Our 6th graders, in particular, have been slightly obsessed with my ties.  In last year’s Silver and Gold ceremony, when they were graduating 5th graders, I think my ties got more shout-outs than I did! 

So, as a surprise this Wednesday, I brought them my entire tie collection.  Each student picked out their favorite and I taught them all the fine skills of tie tying. Not just any old tie knot, mind you, but my knot of choice: the Full Windsor. 

The Full Windsor knot, according to the website tie-a-tie.net “is a thick, wide and triangular tie knot that projects confidence. It would therefore be your knot of choice for presentations, job interviews, courtroom appearances.” This is not kid stuff.  A serious knot for serious business!

Most of our 6th graders grasped it pretty quickly and they even picked out a narrow sparkling black tie for their lead teacher Kevin Nugent.

Tying knots is a perfect metaphor for the integrated curriculum that features so prominently in our middle school.  Integrated curriculum is the concept that connects different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts. Integration focuses on making connections for students, allowing them to engage in relevant, meaningful activities that can be connected to real life.

After our tie tying exercise, and an engaging math activity, these kids demonstrated to me how well they embrace integrated curriculum.  They have been studying rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks; the different stages of the rock cycle; and the forces (such as weather and pressure) that affect the rock cycle. Kevin had given them various options for how to present their recently acquired knowledge.  This class jumped at the chance to produce a play. 

In my almost 27 years in education, I have never seen a group come together around a central idea so cohesively.  They planned, they mapped out a story, they made sure there were parts for everyone and, most importantly, they reviewed the concepts they had learned and verified that they had covered all the material.  It was an impressive thing to behold.  I was there for just the initial brainstorming and drafting of their play.  I can’t wait to see where they take it and to be invited for the final performance.

As Kevin Nugent told me later: “They are a remarkable bunch! Just get them going and get out of their way. I am excited to see what they can do with this!”

Everyone contributed. It was fantastic to see our students connect science and the arts so readily. Certainly they were “engaging in relevant, meaningful activities that can be connected to real life.”

All of our teachers at Friends’, preschool, elementary, and middle school, skillfully encourage students to make connections in different areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts.  I thoroughly enjoyed a close-up view this week, seeing integrated curriculum in action. 

These kids know how to tie it all together.

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