New Vocabulary, New Concepts, New Teacher

As Rutgers Prep sprang back into action after our winter break, many of our recent graduates were still at home visiting. Most college’s academic calendars don’t start back up until later in January, which tends to result in a warmly welcomed group of former students streaming back on to campus to reconnect with faculty members and each other. This year, one of these returnees was invited into a few of our Lower School classrooms, and so it was that our fifth graders found themselves learning new vocabulary and new concepts with a new teacher.

Like her brother Andrew Parr ‘12 before her, Sarah Parr ‘16 is a Rutgers Prep “lifer,” having spent her entire academic career prior to college here with us at Rutgers Prep. As a first-semester freshman at Case Western Reserve this fall, Sarah enrolled in a course entitled “Women in the Ancient World,” and when some of her former teachers heard about it, they invited her to spend some time in their classrooms while home on break. Sarah learned that Rutgers Prep fifth graders were studying Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first female pharoah, and used that as her starting point.

“There’s a lot of new vocabulary to learn when you study Ancient Egypt, so I decided to start there. I hadn’t actually read the book the students had, so I truly didn’t know what they knew; I decided to use that to my advantage. I was learning from them, they were learning from each other, and then we expanded on what they knew, which was a lot. To drive home some of the most important terms, I divided the class into groups of two or three and gave them each a key term for them to create a skit for. Their creativity with props and ideas was amazing.”

Thinking back on her time at Rutgers Prep as a student, Sarah shared that she had learned some of the exercises she drew on – like brainstorming key words and taking a few minutes to write down everything you know about them, and then organizing your thoughts and remembering even more information – from her Advanced Placement World History course.

Not surprisingly, our fifth graders were very enthusiastic about their time with Sarah. Zachary’s favorite part was presenting, while Abbigail was delighted to have a chance to do some acting. Vikram liked that the students worked together to do the charades, and Phillip was happy to learn some new vocabulary.

Mrs. Vinchur added, “The students were definitely engaged. They were up and out of their seats, moving and learning.” As the students headed off to their next class, one boy turned to Sarah and said, “Good luck in college! You did great. I hope you get a good job – you deserve it.”

These kinds of unique cross-divisional opportunities are part of what make the Rutgers Prep experience a special one, and we’re always happy to see our faculty leveraging the talents of their students… even the ones who have graduated!

At the end of class, Sarah lingered for a quick pose with fellow “lifers”

Singapore Math at Rutgers Prep

16-09-20_rps_singapore_math                                     Third graders Aedan & AJ (Class of 2026) and fellow classmates working on math

Singapore Math is a math education program which is centered on problem-solving and critical thinking. As part of their continuing professional development this summer, six of our Lower School teachers were able to attend the SDE National Conference on Singapore Math. While there, they explored best teaching practices with some of the developers and master teachers of the program. Lower School Math Coordinator Gail Moskowitz shared, “We have such a collaborative orientation as a faculty; we’re constantly sharing ideas and strategies with each other. Going to this conference as a group was a phenomenal experience. And this program, with its focus on developing collaboration and the critical thinking skills so necessary for future success, just seems like a great fit for us.”

Math Department Chair Jalaj Desai added, “Our Math curriculum in Middle and Upper Schools has changed significantly over the past few years and many students are now taking advanced classes in their junior and senior years. This school year we have 75 students enrolled in AP Calculus, 40 in AP Statistics, and 25 in Differential Equations classes. All our students in 6th grade take Pre-Algebra, giving them an opportunity to advance early on. To better prepare our lower school students for these successive classes, I strongly believe in utilizing the Singapore Math program. Not only does Singapore Math teach our students to work on math skills but its unique approach helps students retain what they learned.”

Rutgers Prep is now in the process implementing Singapore Math (Math in Focus) as the core of our program throughout our Lower School. Singapore Math builds mathematical understanding through concrete (manipulatives), pictorial (visual models), and abstract (symbolic) representation. It emphasizes the “why” before the “how,” which leads to a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Problem solving is central to the program. Students are encouraged to think of several alternative ways to solve each problem, sometimes individually and other times with a partner or in small groups. Reading strategies and comprehension skills are also sharpened as students analyze word problems in a logical manner. This, in turn, helps develop metacognition (the ability to monitor one’s own thought processes). All of these skills are of paramount importance for our young students as they prepare for a future filled with jobs that may not even exist yet.

Cupid Had Helpers

As you might expect from New Jersey’s first independent school, Rutgers Prep has its share of traditions.

A visitor to Rutgers Prep on February 11th could have witnessed an unusual sight as a small parade of well-bundled children from Mrs. Papa’s Pre-K class made their way to the school’s Upper School Office from our Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC). The children were completing the final step in a long-standing Rutgers Prep tradition – sending hand-made surprise Valentines home through the United States Postal Service.

This project provides the students with an opportunity to be creative, to see a complicated piece of postal equipment at work, to connect to the wider Rutgers Prep community, and to learn a little bit about how the world beyond Rutgers Prep works. (There were some interesting conversations about “sorting” going on.) The children were also encouraged to keep their Valentines a secret, so that they could arrive at their homes as a surprise. (We wonder how many of them managed it!)

The main goal of the project, though, was of course to give the children an opportunity to express their love to their families. They were so pleased and proud!