Kids go out in the field to research
Most kids like animals. But Maryellen Nyce noticed her students were especially fond and interested in animals and animal preservation, with some students even being vegan or dairy free. Ms. Nyce channeled that enthusiasm and passion into a research project that combined language arts, math, and science, and also included a visit to a local farm.
“I love cross-curricular problem-based learning projects because the kids become really invested in their learning,” said Ms. Nyce. “It stops being a chore and starts becoming a passion.”
Through internet research, the class learned of the Barnyard Sanctuary in Columbia, New Jersey. The sanctuary rescues, rehabilitates, and finds new homes for farm animals that are displaced, abused, or whose caregivers are experiencing hardships. During the trip to the farm, the class toured the facility, interviewed owner Tamala Lester, and met some of the 700 animals now on the farm such as cows, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, mules, cats, chickens, and pigs. (More than 3,000 animals have been saved over the sanctuary’s history.)
In addition to life on the farm and the habits of the many animals, Ms. Lester spoke about her goal to grow fields of flowers to attract bees and help preserve the country’s dwindling bee population. That fit in perfectly with some of the information that students had learned prior to the visit. They had studied the key role that bees play in agriculture and examined the possible contributing factors leading to bee colony collapse disorder.
Everything that the students had learned about animals, bees, and the Barnyard Sanctuary was crafted into a website that showed the knowledge gleaned. A video written and edited completely by the students, a Google slide show, and a comic strip were among the site’s features.
But the class’s interest in the sanctuary was not over. The students wanted to make a tangible contribution to help the farm. The students had found over the course of the project that one of the major costs to operate the sanctuary is for hay. Big farm animals eat big meals. The kids calculated as much as $1,800 per week was spent on just hay and they wanted to take action to raise money somehow.
Ms. Nyce decided to incorporate their math unit at the time, fractions, to develop a recipe for no-bake cookies. The class practiced their math skills and measuring skills to make the cookies during school. They also created flyers hung throughout the building, and wrote persuasive letters encouraging their parents to buy. The cookies were sold to faculty and parents during school activities, and during the class’ own celebration culminating the research project. A total of $185 was raised.
“My students constantly surprised me throughout the entire course of the project,” Ms. Nyce said. “Their creativity and dedication resulted in the project going places I could never have predicted – or designed for them. They not only learned how to research problems and take steps to solve those problems, but they also took away broader life skills that they can use as they continue to learn and grow.”
Canine reading buddies help kids improve their skills
Over the course of the school year, two therapy dogs helped Janet Polizois’ second-graders and Dina Carmelengo’s third-graders boost their reading skills. Smokey and Tippi from Creature Comfort
Pet Therapy of Morris Plains visited every two weeks to be the good listeners they are. During each session, the students spent about an hour reading to the dogs in small groups – Smokey in Mrs. Polizois’ class and Tippi in Mrs. Carmelengo’s. The kids in each class then gathered in a circle to read together to their reading buddy.
“Smokey and Tippi motivated them to read and learn,” said Mrs. Polizois. “The experience really helped with their oral fluency and made them more comfortable reading in front of others. They would hug their dog as they were reading, it was so moving.”
The reading sessions and all the other work done by students and teachers paid off. The results from a spring reading assessment show that each student substantially improved on reading ability and comprehension when compared to the start of the year. Other assessments completed periodically throughout the year were used to help teachers monitor student progress and identify strengths and weaknesses. This helped them create personalized learning strategies for students to target skills such as decoding sight words, improving comprehension, and citing text evidence.
“I am so proud of the effort they put in and how they grew,” Mrs. Polizois said. “The data reflects their hard work.”
The Reading Buddies program came to a close with a June 13 celebration. Smokey and Tippi visited wearing mortarboard graduation hats, accompanied by their respective owners, Lynn Livingston and Lenore MacKenzie. Each student received a certificate of completion, a stuffed animal book buddy of the class’ dog so they can each practice their reading skills over the summer, and a personalized booklet with a photo of himself or herself reading to the dog.
“This year was such a success!” said Mrs. Carmelengo. “We hope to partner with these special dogs and their owners again next year.”
Smokey is a mini-schnauzer and Tippi is a golden retriever.
Life on a farm
A group of a dozen students recently visited Ashley Farms to learn more about agriculture and operating a farm year-round. During the personalized tour, students learned about planting cycles, different types of soil and nutrients for optimal growth, the operation of farm machinery, and the types of crops grown on the farm.
The students also planted lettuce seeds and saw the various stages of growth of lettuce plants. Each student received a small pot with an herb plant to take home.
“It’s really important for kids to see that not all jobs are corporate or in an office,” said teacher Dani Marangon. “There are many types of jobs out there and they all require reading, math, collaboration, and good communication.”
The visit to Ashley Farms ended the inaugural year of Take It Out, a program which helps kids understand how the knowledge and skills they learn in school are used in the real world. A different Take It Out trip to a community business or service agency was conducted per month. Each trip provides students with an introduction to a unique skill set. Earlier trips included visits to the Mount Olive Police Department, Chili’s, and the WRNJ studio.
Take it Out participants were randomly chosen from students who applied to be a part of a particular trip. One student was selected from each classroom in grades 3-5.
|Rylee Zabriskie receives her change after paying the tax man, Dominic Moscatello|
Students experience the grownup world through Kidsville
Second-graders at CMS go to work every day. They collect paychecks at the end of the week, cash them at the bank, and even pay taxes.
This is Kidsville. Life here in the simulated community isn’t so different from the real world – and that’s exactly the point. The four week-long experience gives students a taste of daily adult life, teaching them about a variety of careers and providing insight into common tasks such as money management. It also provides the opportunity for kids to apply the math and language arts skills they’ve mastered, doing so in a setting that connects their learning to the world outside the classroom.
“It brings all their learning to life,” said teacher Ann Scotland.
Students are assigned different occupations each week. For 30-40 minutes per day, they engage in activities typically performed by their grownup counterparts. Kidsville teachers plan lessons and then go to teach younger students in other classes. Architects draw blueprints and build their structures. Mail carriers connect CMS staff members to each other by sorting and delivering mail throughout the building. Reporters go on interviews, work with photographers, write stories, and create newspapers for the Kidsville community. Each job has its own personality and skills to be used.
The excitement in Kidsville is palpable. The experience runs for just a small portion of the school day but delivers a powerful dose of energy and zest for learning.
“The enthusiasm that they come into school with is incredible,” said Mrs. Scotland of the second-graders. “They talk about Kidsville when they walk in every morning and they’re talking about it when they leave.”
Working for a living of course means getting paid. Kidsville bankers write out checks for each student every week. After the checks are issued, the workers then go to the bank to endorse them, cash them, and pay the 25% income tax. (Yup, even in second grade taxes are a cold reality.) The students can either save their money or shop at the Kidsville store where a variety of handmade crafts (made by Kidsville workers) and items donated by parents are available for purchase.
For some students, the experience of managing money has made them keenly aware of the same financial juggling act that their parents do every month and the number of household expenses that add up. It’s fueled some very real financial discussions between kids and parents.
Kidsville has been run in the past, most recently about a dozen years ago. Teachers updated the program before rebooting it in early May.
|Kidsville architect Kendall Rady works on the steeple of a church|
Sandshore Elementary School
498 Sandshore Rd
Budd Lake, NJ 07828
Mountain View Elementary School
118 Cloverhill Drive
Flanders, NJ 07836
Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive
Budd Lake, NJ 07828
Mt. Olive Middle School
160 Wolfe Road
Budd Lake, NJ 07828