In the spirit of counting and advent, I spent the first two weeks of December visiting each of the grades of Moravian Academy in my own “12 days of MA.” By the time I reached the seniors, I better understood how the Moravian educational experience builds and grows as students anticipate the next year and the next idea, lesson, and opportunity. It was a uniquely Moravian experience. I was able to span the growth of students from 3 years old to 18 years old in just two weeks. Please see the summary below.
It was like watching a long movie on fast forward. I saw how our children are learning much more than any single, discrete knowledge set. Over the many experiences in this environment, they are learning to love knowledge and to love play, to sustain their curiosity and to work hard, and how to serve each other as they reach for their goals. These are the habits of mind that they will take with them and that will make them successful wherever they may go.
Primer – It all begins with books! I arrived as students were preparing for snack and within moments these 3- and 4-year-olds were sitting on the rug and I was reading a story about a family of animals with their father looking for the perfect Christmas tree in the snow. (Spoiler alert: my favorite part was dad turning the tree into a sled to get the family home in time for dinner.)
Pre-Kindergarten – After snack, it was time for recess with the Pre-Kindergarten. I was the “new one” on the playground but a student approached me quickly to ask if I wanted to see her nature collection. “Yes, of course!” She showed me the leaves, seeds, and twigs she had organized and displayed on the side of the playground.
Kindergarten – It’s still a delight to see our youngest students in the Spanish Immersion Program switch back and forth between two languages in the classroom. When I visited, we sat in a circle to hear a book about Hanukkah that was written in both English and Spanish. (I read the English.) I left feeling mentally recharged having worked hard to keep up with these 5- and 6-year-olds!
First – In PE class, I learned about dribbling a ball but also that PE is about body and mind awareness. I was amazed at the progress they made in just one class. We started with chasing balls around the gym to using our “finger pads” to push the ball down and keep it at the hip level—no chasing required.
Second – After learning about colonial Moravians and the history of Bethlehem, second graders play a learning game designed by MA parent Julie Oltman. My group of three traveled with our iPad outside around the historic Church Street Campus to find Moravians geocached on the virtual map and complete challenges that tested our knowledge. One of the best parts was seeing a leaf pile and finding an extra minute to jump through it! I asked a student if learning about colonial history was fun and he said, “Yeah, I wish we could do this about 88 more times.”
Third – Then to learning about Pennsylvania and a discussion on natural resources turns to weighing the many sides of coal and fossil fuels. A favorite moment was hearing students say as the lesson ended how cool it was that the pressure underground can make coal, diamonds, and volcanoes!
Fourth – In orchestra and band classes, I saw students marking pieces of music with pencils and also learning the pace with Smartmusic on the screen. I asked the violin students for some advice on learning an instrument. “First, pick an instrument that you are really going to love.” “Be ready to schedule your time for practicing.” “Watch less football and hockey.”
Fifth – The class was finishing a session on the brain when I arrived. A student reviewed his notebook with me as he had learned to make it: on the right side was a clear description of the parts of the brain and the functioning of a neuron, on the left side were colorful drawings of the important relationships to remember.
Sixth – Walking into sixth grade science class, I could hear students saying excitedly, “look at all those hairs!” Their teacher had put a slide of a bee’s leg under her microscope, which was networked to each student’s iPad. Students were taking photos of the specimen, documenting the magnification and the specimen, and talking about the bees knees the whole time.
Seventh – In English class, the students and teachers were organizing and prioritizing their work ahead. Some students were getting into reading groups to take notes on the current book. Other students, who had missed the last class to perform with the handbell choir, were posting their stories online at the class blog site.
Eighth – Students and their science teacher worked on their master notes to explain changes to gravity and force. The economy of words was important, as the class worked on describing in exactly the right English words that if the distance doubles then the forces reduces by the square of the distance.
Ninth – I saw French students reviewing their language skills in multiple, escalating ways. They started with multiple choice questions on verb tenses and moved to interpretive questions on a campaign speech they watched in sample videos online.
Tenth – Collaboration was the difference maker in Algebra II class, where I saw students were graphing multiple functions to solve problems about when to take products to market. One sophomore quickly found an answer, while her table partner asked some questions to get started. The teacher looked at both students and told the second student to ask his neighbor. In the conversation that ensued, the first student explained her solution and the second student listened and found an error in her answer. Soon their pencils and erasers were flying to help write a correct answer.
Eleventh – I visited a U.S. History class to find students talking with the author of American Uprising, the book they had recently finished. The historian, Dan Rasmussen, was talking over Skype, projected from the teacher’s laptop to the screen in the classroom, and asking the students about the dangers and the relevance of making moral conclusions about figures in the past. “What do you make of Claiborne’s moral decisions? Can you condemn or condone him?”
Twelfth – December for many seniors is about physics, college applications, and … waiting. I saw all three. After working on the geosynchronous orbits of satellites in class, seniors peppered their conversations with talk of early action and early decision and what they were doing while they waited to hear. I saw another senior who stopped and told me, “I’ve been working pretty hard on my apps, so I’m going to take a 10-minute break to see if this thing will fly and then get back to it.” He walked out of Snyder with his drone. Ready to launch.