Children learn responsibility when they are entrusted with it. There are no training wheels. In order to become leaders, they must be given an opportunity to lead. Allowed to face the challenges and triumphs of leadership, they will discover strength in themselves that we cannot give them.
As with all that we teach, we scaffold these opportunities. In each grade, students take on more autonomy than the year before. Bit by bit, their learning becomes more self-guided and they are asked to solve problems using their own resources. As the supports gradually fall away, young leaders learn that they can do more for themselves than they realized.
This year we are introducing a new leadership opportunity to students in grades 3-6. Representatives will be elected by their peers to serve on a student council. Interested candidates have prepared position papers, outlining visions of hope for their community, which range from recess reform to new structures for peer-to-peer mentoring.
We look forward to engaging with their ideas. Those elected will face the challenges of balancing competing needs and desires within their constituency. Those among the electorate will learn to make their voices heard through their representatives. Together, they will feel the pride of making changes that improve conditions for their peers. Most of all, they will gain faith in themselves as leaders, decision makers, and participants in Democracy.
In this pivotal election year, 1st graders investigate American leaders from George Washington to Barack Obama, from Helen Keller to Martin Luther King, Jr., as they explore the guiding question: What makes a good leader? They began this expedition with a gallery walk, examining pictures of leaders and making notes of their observations and their questions. In a final project, an American Leaders Wax Museum, each student steps into the shoes of an American leader, showcasing the leader’s special qualities and achievements.
Students will also explore how voting gives people a voice in choosing our leaders. Through fieldwork at a local polling place during the presidential elections, students investigate the steps in the voting process and will survey today’s voters on what they think makes a good leader. Throughout the expedition, students listen to and sing “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” and other iconic folk songs that express love and pride for our country and its people.
Our newly released MCAS scores for 2011-2012 tell an exciting story. They depict a school that has made significant gains in the last four years both in English Language Arts (ELA) and in Math. They portray a school where achievement gaps are rapidly narrowing and test scores for all students are on par with the state average.
Under the new Massachusetts Department of Education ranking system, which has replaced the system mandated by No Child Left Behind, we are now a Level One school. This is a significant achievement. All schools in the state have been assigned a ranking between 1 and 5, where 5 is failing and 1 is thriving. The state measures data from four years, with the most recent weighted the strongest, and factors in the achievement of low-income students compared to the total average. A Level One ranking distinguishes Conservatory Lab as a model for quality teaching and learning.
The graphs below compare the Cumulative Progress Index (CPI) of Conservatory Lab, Boston Public Schools, and the state average over the last three years. This year we have seen significant gains in ELA, bringing us just above the state average. Our Math scores are slightly lower than last year, but they are still neatly in range of the state average. Among low-income students, we are significantly and consistently outperforming both BPS and the state average in both subjects.
Of course these test scores are only one angle of the story. For the full story, ask a kindergartner to tell you about primary and secondary colors, or have a 5th grader show you the form of a blues poem. Take a look at our YouTube page, full of triumphant performances by every grade, or peruse our bookshelves of literature and art created by our children. There are many ways to show learning, but any way you measure it, it is happening here. Thank you to our students, teachers, families, and staff for creating a place where learning happens day by day and year by year.
In the opening lines of Bruckner’s fourth symphony, a solo French horn calls out, clear and strong from a sea of trembling strings. As the music unfolds, the orchestra begins to rally around those six notes. Other instruments take up the theme, developing it and making it their own, supporting it with their own harmonies and colors, transforming it from a lone vision into a triumphant statement that will carry the orchestra through to the final movement.
I think about this symphony as I watch our students and teachers take their first steps together. Carefully they practice every routine of the day, from walking in line to passing out pencils. As students become comfortable with these new routines, they begin to take ownership of their learning environment. From these simple first steps, a culture begins to grow, based on cooperation, responsibility, perseverance, empathy, and self reflection. The momentum builds, until they are creating, exploring, learning, and performing together.
It is wonderful to have our young scholars and musicians back with us, ready to embark on a new journey. I look forward to working with you all this year to create positive learning experiences for all of our students.
The 2nd grade class made this music video to share their knowledge about snakes. Within seven days, it has received almost 8,000 views! It has been featured in the Huffington Post, as well as the ABC local news sites in Fresno, CA; Houston, TX; and Philledelphia, PA. Keep up to date with the latest news about the Snake Video by liking the facebook page.
Last Friday visitors streamed through the school, bouncing from classroom to classroom in a continuous stream of learning celebrations. More stories and pictures will soon be up on Facebook, but for now here are the highlights of the last week of classroom presentations:
The K1 Circus Our young performers have been studying the elements of a circus performance, including the characters, form, actions, and traditions that contribute to the excitement of the big top. As a class, they identified and honed their most impressive skills of acrobatics, contortion, tumbling, and balance. Last Friday, their work came to fruition in a stunning spectacle of talent and art.
Second Grade Music Video Premier The herpetologists of 2nd grade spoke with poise and presence at their culminating presentation last Friday. They shared the process of their research into the world of snakes and the creation of their products: a pamphlet on snake care, a collection of scientific drawings, and a music video based on Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” about the diversity of snakes. The video will soon be available on YouTube.
Fourth Grade Planet Poster Palooza The fourth grade class wrapped up their study of the solar system with a presentation of planet posters. Each student assumed the personae of a different celestial body and told a story from its perspective.
Sixth Grade Mock Trial The students of 6th grade completed a study of the book Tangerine, by Edward Bloor. On Friday, they put one of the novel’s central characters, Erik, on trial for his actions in the story. The students prepared opening remarks, rebuttals, and closing statements to sway the jury of 4th graders in their favor. Judge Gapp presided over an emotionally and intellectually stimulating round of oral arguments.
Following the school’s long-standing tradition, students in grades K1-5 assembled in the field for an afternoon of collaborative games and school spirit. Each student was assigned to a different color group, with representatives from each grade. The twelve groups rotated around to six stations, including Gym Club Calisthenics, a Pizza Box Relay, The Parachute, The Golf Ball Spoon River Jump, Kickball, and the playground water station.
The grand finale was a water balloon tossing championship, in which even the teachers participated! It was a joyful end to a joyful year.
A kindred spirit to the mission and goals of Conservatory Lab, Dr. Howard Gardner, a noted developmental psychologist and author, spoke to a rapt audience primarily about his well-known and highly regarded Theory of Multiple Intelligences, of which music is one. A long-time key member of Project Zero at Harvard, he has done extensive research on human cognition with a special focus on the arts.In addition he spoke of his book Five Minds for the Future: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creative mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind.His words had compatibility and a resonance with the workshops and materials presented at the conference.
Dr. Gardner spoke of the importance that music has played in his life and the pleasure he has derived from playing the piano since a small child.
Last Friday’s conference drew educators from throughout New England, including New York. Participants came to experience a day of presentations, performances, and panels led by Conservatory Lab teachers and staff, discussing the school’s unique approach to music-infused Expeditionary Learning.
Following a keynote address by Howard Gardner, participants divided into grade level groups to learn about learning expeditions taking place in each class. They were asked to put on their “student hats” and experience classroom activities through the eyes of children, then don their “teacher hats” in order to reflect.
The post-lunch Dudamel performance was a highlight for all. One participant wrote, “I cried; watching children of different backgrounds perform together so beautifully is heartwarming and inspiring.”
In the afternoon, Conservatory Lab teachers presented break-out sessions on song writing, the blues, the listening project, and creating a music infused school. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive on the presentations throughout the day. In the words of one teacher, “Children can learn! Lets always have high expectations.”
Participants and presenters will stay in touch through the Music Moves Minds Facebook Page, an on-line community for educators to share ideas, materials, questions, and triumphs with one another.
Bravo to all staff, student ambassadors, and volunteers for your hard work and stunning performance.
Conservatory Lab Charter School will engage all children by using the Learning Through Music Curriculum model to ensure every child's academic, creative, and social success, as validated by qualitative and quantitative measures.