Friday, December 16, 2016

Seabury is research driven education

One of the hallmarks of appropriate education for gifted students is acceleration and compacting curriculum.
The concerns I sometime hear are:
"If my child moves quickly through this or skips it, then do they really know it?"
"Would they do better in a prep program where emphasis is on drilling certain skills?"
These concerns are especially prevalent in mathematics, but research on gifted students shows these concerns are unfounded. A 2013 longitudinal study found gifted students who were accelerated one grade were more likely to obtain high-level degrees, publish work, and receive patents in STEM areas.

2. You might think working with older students might cause difficulties with friendship making, but again research shows overall self-concept and friendships for accelerated students are improved by the process. In addition, compacting curriculum, meaning not repeatedly practicing things students already know, does not cause any dips in test scores on SATs and other standardized tests, but instead reduces frustration and boredom which lead to underachievement.

Students across grade-level doing the same work.
2. How does this play out in Seabury middle school? As a teacher I've learned, meeting students where they're at is best for all learners. This is exactly the program we run at Seabury. We have highly talented mathematicians at the middle school. Grade-level does not come into play when determining our groupings. We have sixth graders who test into geometry and algebra I, and that is where we group them. We also have students who test into lower levels, and they a grouped there. Our goal is finding ways to help each student grow, by providing them with the most challenging experience they are ready for. The caveat for this is that we are not just trying to challenge them with more work. Many programs operate under the bad idea that gifted children should do more work. "Sally does one sheet of math, but Billy is gifted so he should do two." Nothing frustrates a child more than the unfairness of that situation. No one likes more work. We do not to push kids into this unfair situation, but to create work that does not insult their intelligence.

Students working on High School Geometry
The level of differentiation at Seabury is intense. Differentiation, a catch word in the education biz, is often paid lip service, but seldom lived up to, especially in the direction of acceleration. I know as the parent of a twice-exceptional child, that getting more challenging work at a public school is a battle. My son at age 4 could read a newspaper to you and explain the article, yet he needed to show his teacher five times he could identify "A" says "ah, ah, ah," before he could more on. Eventually, he got so bored, he started writing his own little assignments in the margins of the paper. Truly differentiating for each individual student is challenging for teachers. It requires a gifted and knowledgeable staff, and it requires you to be flexible and thoughtful.

For me, Seabury keeps me on my toes more than any other teaching job. Staying a few steps ahead of students who have minds that make the quantum leaps that Seabury kids do is a constant exercise in critical thinking. But, as a once gifted child myself, I love it.

 Jared MacKenzie, Seabury math science teacher

(1) Park, G., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2013). When less is more: Effects of grade skipping on adult STEM productivity among mathematically precocious adolescents. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 176–198.

(2) Lee, S. Y., Olszewski-Kubilius, P., & Thomson, D. T. (2012). Academically gifted students perceived interpersonal competence and peer relationships. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56, 90–104

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Astronomy Fun

Talk about challenging! Our students traveled to Eatonville and the foothills of Mt. Rainier to visit the Starry Hill Observatory, a private observatory run as a non-profit by two wonderful teachers, Tom and Gracie. The observatory is equipped with several telescopes, equipment for astro-photography, and a planetarium. The highlight of our trip was the highly interactive planetarium show emceed and created by our host Tom. He grabbed the students attention with an amazing sense of story and challenge. He set up situations and questions to challenge their thinking, and was rewarded with complete engagement and the joy of scientific thought. Wow! We learned what a telescope really was. Tom nearly convinced the students that the sun went around the earth, before finally guiding to a deeper understanding of seasons and sunrise and sunset. And we were challenged with a high school level physics lab on gravity and orbits.

In the observatory, students practiced using software to orient the telescope. They learned how to maneuver the turret tower. Tom explained how the telescope and camera create clear images of the galaxies and nebula. Although we couldn't take our own photos, we went through all the steps, learning a lot.

Some Seabury Students also attended Tacoma Astronomical Society's public nights and a student night at Pierce College's Planetarium. T-AS provided some great experiences about the Doppler Effect, gravity, and spectroscopy.

There are continuing opportunities with the T-AS student program. The next student event is November 18th. Check out T-AS' website for public nights.

Taking practice photos in the Observatory.

Students in the warm room. Telescopes need to be the same temperature as outside, so the Observatory can be quite cold.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Seabury students take off on a "sweet" new project!

To supplement our discussions on human rights and international trade, part of our larger globalization unit, Seabury students began a sweet (and tasty!) project this week--creating and analyzing a new chocolate bar! Working in groups and also via individual research and writing, students will analyze market trends in the candy industry and research the impact cocoa production has on the environment and small-scale farmers. Using this research, they will create a brand new chocolate bar recipe! A comprehensive business plan is an integral component of the project, where students will discuss the "triple bottom line" of their bar, discuss the sourcing of their ingredients and the nutritional content of their bar, create a mission statement for their new chocolate company, and even design a wrapper.

As part of the project, we had the fantastic opportunity to talk first hand with Dr. Eric Durtschi, founder and owner of two different cocoa-related companies: Crio-bru, which creates drinking chocolate made of pure ground cocoa beans (brews like coffee) and also Durci Chocolate, which makes bars of delicious dark chocolate. Students asked insightful questions about what Dr. Durtschi does, how he sources his ingredients, his involvement in the fair trade movement, and even the profitability of chocolate bars. We learned a tremendous amount, and were introduced to ideas we had not even thought about, such as logistics of getting freshly farmed cocoa beans out of the rainforest (Eric trades with one village accessible only via a four hour donkey ride!)

We ended our session with a sampling of three different Durci chocolates, graciously donated by the company for our taste bud enjoyment, but only after we were taught the proper way to taste chocolate. :-) Ask your kids- they are now chocolate experts!! We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Durtschi for his time and talents!!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Seabury and the Electromagnetic Spectrum

One of the benefits of having scientists as parents is that they can expand our background knowledge with their professional insights. Recently Dr. Penny Rowe, researcher in the field of climate change visited our class to give us a presentation in the area of her expertise. She studies the effects of water vapor in our atmosphere and the positive feedback loop known as the Greenhouse Effect. Penny explained how sunlight travels through our atmosphere and is returned to space as infrared radiation (IR). We learned how changes to the atmosphere made by human activity, leads to a dangerous increase in water vapor and trapped heat. We are all grateful for such an informative and hands-on experience.

We have been learning about different aspects of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, so Dr. Rowe's information about IR was an excellent addition.

Students have also been working hard on a long term project on the EM spectrum, where each of them had to become an expert on one of the types of EM radiation (radio, microwaves, infrared, visual light, ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays). The culmination of this work was presented on Friday. Some of the many unique ways students showed their knowledge were: a puppet show, experiments on plant life, informative models and diagrams, and some beautiful comics. We are so proud of all their hard work.

 This is a model of gamma radiation going through a magnetic field.

 This is a model of a gamma ray generator.
One student showed how plants can glow in UV light when they are feed tonic water or highlighter ink.

On Saturday many students attended the Tacoma Astronomical Society's Halloween Special. They participated in several experiments that debunked Astronomy myths. They balanced eggs, not on the Vernal Equinox and explored the Coriolis Effect on toilet bowl whirlpools. The show ended with a planetarium show of the current night sky, because sadly the actual night sky was hidden behind the "Washington Nebula". 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Friday Electives

Seabury Middle School students experienced their first electives this Friday. We brainstormed a list early this month and narrowed it down to several possibilities.

Mr. MacKenzie is running a lab in mini-computing. We have several DIY computers like the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi as well as MakeyMakey controllers. Three groups are designing their first circuits and then powering them with computer code they are creating and manipulating. Older students were paired with younger students. One pair used an out-of-the-book circuit to strobe a rainbow LED, then moved on to altering the code to change the strobe. What a great example of collaboration. Another pair worked on getting the Raspberry Pi running, but ran into compatibility issues. They sent off an email to the Lower School then switched to making a fruit powered piano with MakeyMakey controllers.

Meanwhile Mr. Cory ran an Asian calligraphy class in which students are learning a traditional style of writing with brush and ink. They are working on the basic strokes with emphasis on expressing emotion through calligraphy style.

Many students realized their impatience and eagerness showed in their work and self-corrected by slowing down and being more methodical.

Students also spent time making amazing artworks with Dr. Greenfield. One sixth grader expressed his inner Trekkie with a USS Enterprise NC-1701.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Population Studies At Seabury!

Seabury middle school students have been studying global population issues this month. Our knowledge of world demographics figures was taken to a new level this week as we learned how resources are distributed around the globe. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we learned that while certain geographic regions may be about the same physical size, the population density, amount of farmable land, and income per capita may be vastly different. We talked about what this might mean from an international perspective, hinting on how nations will cope when others want to move in or out. 

Students then spent time using resources such as and Peter Menzel's book Material World to discuss reasons that a person might want to move from one nation to other. As students begin to think about issues from a global perspective, they are more aware of their interconnectedness, an understanding necessary when attempting to solve these complex problems. 

The global refugee crisis is most certainly an issue that will be discussed at the Model UN conference we are attending this coming spring, and Seabury students will be ready to take on the debate!
–Jenna Greenfield, humanities teacher

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Parking Day

Friday was Park(ing) Day in Tacoma, where artists, businesses, and regular citizens take over a metered parking spot and turn it into a mini-park. Seabury middle school students designed, assembled, and manned a spot near our building. We had a lego table, a vintage electronics exhibit, a logic/math puzzles table, and an art section with coloring. Many people stopped by and learned about our school and its students. They were also entertained by the fabulous magic stylings of Coco the Magnificent.

Our students were able to wander around the city and experience the other park(ing) spots. We interacted with students from SOTA and discussed graduation plans. We hula hooped and did sidewalk chalk. We visited the Mad Hatter Tea Shop and wowed them with piano playing. Some students played mini-golf and participated in art installations.

This was a great opportunity for us to make connections in the neighborhood and get to know our community.

– Jared MacKenzie, science/math teacher