When I was in fifth grade, my teacher Mr. Catalino gave me an assignment I will never forget. A passionate Boston Celtics fan, on the nights of games ‘Mr. C’ canceled the regular homework for one student and replaced it with the assignment to watch the basketball game and give a statistical report of the game the next morning in class. When it was my turn, I recruited my parents and the older of my two sisters to help, outfitting them with clipboards and the assignment to track certain statistics for certain players. After the game, and staying up well past my bedtime, I compiled the numbers and analyzed them, determining things like the average points and rebounds for starting players and the point differential between players of corresponding positions on each team.
More than thirty years later, I remember the assignment, where each member of my family sat as we watched the game, and the presentation the next day. I also remember the math. Certainly, Mr. C tapped into budding interests in sports and in math in me, but more so, this assignment has such impact for me because he involved me in an experience that allowed me to apply what we had been learning in class. That notions of experience and of connecting to students’ interests are long-held tenets of high-quality education. Quite simply, lessons and units that involve authentic experiences and that connect with students’ interests result in better retention and more understanding, as my fifth grade experience demonstrates.
Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling with our eighth grade to Washington, DC for their traditional culminating trip. The trip was, as it always has been, excellent, and it provided a set of experiences for our students that will ensure their learning this year remains vibrant and impactful for them. The eighth grade history curriculum looks at American History, with a special focus on government, from Civil War to Civil Rights. Trips to meet Congressman Gottheimer of the 5th district in New Jersey, of meeting the President of the African-American Civil War Museum, of laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier, of reciting the Gettysburg Address at night on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and of visiting several museums, notably the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture collectively helped reinforce the students’ understanding of the curriculum and its relevance and importance.
When we returned on Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of joining families of our three and four year olds with Chilton House teachers for an evening of learning about the math program in Chilton House. All of our Chilton House programs are about experiences, as math concepts are contained in everything from block-building to morning meeting, and the vast array of ways that students can learn concepts of numbers, counting, ordering, and relativity allows teachers to present activities that speak to students’ interests as well. These are but two examples from last week of the hundreds of ways our teachers involve our students in their learning, present curriculum and activities that meet our students’ interests, and ensure that student experiences in class allow them to apply the concepts they are learning. These tenets of excellent education are constantly at the forefront of our faculty’s minds as they plan and deliver every lesson.