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Writing Rocks—June 2018 Calendar


posted: Fri, Dec 14th, 2018

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Light shows, Edison, and the Hour of Code

The path from learning about Thomas Edison to a hands-on lesson on computer coding went straight through Christmas. With students from Mount Olive High School coming in to help her third-graders complete a computer coding assignment, Samantha Darnesto created a lesson that linked coding to language arts and social studies.

The class had been reading “The Young Thomas Edison.” Mrs. Darnesto discussed the first string of holiday lights designed by Edison 128 years ago that were strung around the outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory. Modern light shows, she explained, are controlled by sophisticated computer programming. The kids examined how light shows found at the Coachella music festival and the Super Bowl were developed and also looked at some holiday light shows. In some of these productions, Mrs. Darnesto discovered, up to five hours of computer coding is required to synch the audio and the light effects for what ultimately turns out to be just one minute of the presentation. 

The students then created their own light shows on paper and wrote descriptive paragraphs explaining how they would look. 

Dr. Robert Zywicki, superintendent of schools, was shadowing third-grader Jake Notoro for several hours that day, experiencing life through the eyes of a typical Mount Olive third-grader. The two worked together on Jake’s light show. 

“Dr. Zywicki talked with Jake about what would make a good performance,” said Mrs. Darnesto, a Rutgers schoolmate of Dr. Zywicki from their undergraduate years.  

After the lesson, Mount Olive High School students walked the third-graders through a hands-on lesson on computer coding that the kids were doing in honor of the Hour of Code. Held throughout the world to recognize Computer Science Education Week, the Hour of Code is an annual campaign designed to demystify "code" for people of all ages and to broaden participation in the field of computer programming.

The light show activity helped students see the value of computer programming in real-life and the “hidden” ways that coding is used all around us. Research shows that when students can make the link between their learning and applications in the real-world, they retain more information because they understand its value.

Dr. Zywicki has been shadowing students in all schools. At Tinc Road, he sat at the desk adjacent to Jake’s and even had his own name tag on his desk. Since Jake is an aficionado of holiday hats, Mrs. Darnesto purchased a Santa hat for Dr. Zywicki so that he’d blend right in. 

“They loved him,” she said about the superintendent. “He engaged the students and had fun with them. He brought his infectious energy to class. They want him to come back and visit.”

Powerful messages to remember

Tinc Road third-graders recently learned to lead healthy lives.

Footsteps for Life, from Morris County Prevention is Key, taught the students strategies to grow up healthy and drug-free. The six weekly sessions focused on making good decisions, interpersonal skills, cultural respect, peer pressure, and peaceful conflict resolution. Weekly homework assignments and educational sheets reinforced the lessons between classes and involved parents in the learning experience.

The program gave students the opportunity to practice in a fun way the skills they had learned. Students used puppets to role-play and act out various scenarios that might occur in real life, including those involving peer conflict.

“I like that they are teaching us to think about our decisions before we make them,” said Ryan Bause, a student in Kathy Diefes’ class. “They taught us the Stop Light Solution: Stop, Think, and Make a Good Decision," 

Footsteps also helped students find the right words to express themselves and their feelings in order to peacefully resolve a problem with a classmate. It stressed the importance of being considerate and to remember that their words and actions can affect the feelings and behaviors of others.

This is the second year that the program has been run at Tinc Road.

Morris County Prevention is Key Inc. is a non-profit community-based organization that addresses health and well-being issues including substance abuse and violence prevention. The organization provides research-based educational programs, professional development training, advocacy, and referral services.

The case of the missing aide 

Alyssa Puleo’s students weren’t prepared for what they would find when they returned from gym and art. Yellow and black crime scene tape covered the door and the classroom was in disarray. Chairs were overturned. Books were on the floor.

More important, though, was what was missing and what was new. Nancy Engel, instructional aide, had been kidnapped and clues to the perpetrator’s identity had been left around the room.

Drawing conclusions was the language arts skill of the week and Ms. Puleo used this scenario to get kids thinking and analyzing text. The students had no idea that they’d be using their knowledge to solve a real-life mystery. 

“It was the biggest surprise in the world,” said Diyan Iqbal.

The young detectives first examined the clues, a tennis ball, a sneaker, and a mug. They then read statements from interviews with the suspects, highlighting the relevant information that would help them deduce who kidnapped Mrs. Engel. 

Was it the custodian? The librarian? The teacher? 

The students drew their conclusions then each wrote a paragraph explaining how the evidence supported the finding. Wearing detective badges so everyone in the school would know they were on official police business, they searched the building. There she was! Mrs. Engel, safe and sound.

The kidnapper was... Maryjane Timpano. The teacher. 

“Drawing conclusions is an important language arts skill and this provided students with a way to practice what they had learned and see how the skill might be used in real life,” said Ms. Puleo. “It really engaged them.”

Earlier in the week the students had read “Dear Mr. Winston,” a short story about a girl who brought a snake into the school library, and were asked to draw conclusions about the girl’s motivation. 


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24 Tinc Road Flanders, NJ 07836
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