Sixth Grade Spanish

Our 6th grade students recently had the opportunity to design presentations about any topic they chose related to Puerto Rico. The book they use in their course includes not only language instruction but also information about the cultures of several highlighted countries; students are initially asked to bring in current news from the country or state they’re learning about, and that helps give the class a sense of what’s going on in that part of the world.

Their teacher, Señora Stevenson, says, “My role is mostly to make sure that we don’t have too many ‘repeat’ topics, but the students have a very diverse set of interests. This year we had presentations on holidays, food, the rain forest, animals, famous athletes, el Morro (a fort that was built to protect Puerto Rico from invasion), the different ethnic groups of Puerto Rico, chicken fighting, a famous series of interconnected caves, the geography of Puerto Rico, and the surfing culture of Isabela. I’ve been asking my students to share with their classmates for over a decade, and you know what? I learn something new every year.”

This year, for the first time, Señora Stevenson gave her students the choice of doing a poster or a Power Point presentation. “By the second presentation of the year,” she shares, “I had more students doing Power Points than I did posters. The students who did really terrific Power Point presentations were an inspiration to those students who hadn’t tried it yet.”

Because the students choose their own topics, they are engaged and excited about the learning, and you can really feel the energy they’re putting into it during their in-class research days. Students use both books and their iPads for research, and they’ve also found GoogleEarth helpful in assisting them to envision the places that they’re researching. Each presentation is supposed to take somewhere between three and five minutes, but some go a bit longer because the students are so engaged by what they’re learning.

Inspired by both their teacher and each other, our students were enthusiastic about their learning:
I had no idea that there was so much biodiversity in Puerto Rico! — Emily K.
I chose Puerto Rican animals, and one of them, the Indian mongoose, took up two slides! — Caden G.
I chose music, and I didn’t know that the beginnings of two kinds of music that were born in Puerto Rico, the bomba and plena, were originally introduced by African slaves. — Sontee S.
I was researching Puerto Rican basketball players, and I thought they would be people that I’d never heard of, but then it turned out that one of my favorite players is Puerto Rican, plus even some other players I know. I learned a lot! — Rishi M.

Rutgers Prep’s commitment to the study of languages is borne out by our schedule; our sixth graders have a forty minute Spanish class every day. “Visitors to our campus from other schools often say that they don’t spend as much time on their Spanish,” shared Señora Stevenson. We are pleased to partner with families who think of their children’s education in a global context, and who value the many doors that dedicated language study can open for learners of all ages.

Big Numbers

“Hey Rutgers Prep, did you know….? ” The Big Numbers Project was brand new for us this year, and the resulting posters were everywhere in our middle school!

Big Numbers As fifth grade teacher Mrs. Chamberlain tells it, she learned that a 4th-5th grade colleague in another school does a variation on this project at the end of the year. Mrs. Chamberlain thought about it, moved the project to the beginning of the year, and adapted it so that it was specific to the Rutgers Prep community.

The stated goal of the “Big Numbers” project was for the fifth graders to generate a research question which would result in a “big number” answer; students had to come up with some data, and then use multiplication or various ways to calculate the big number. Students needed to propose three possible questions, and their teacher worked with them to help make sure that the question they ultimately chose would get them to a big number. “I challenged them to get to a numbe as big as one million,” shares Mrs. Chamberlain. “This caused some students to adapt their plan. One student was going to measure the length of phone cords in inches, and after my challenge he decided to use millimeters on his own.” In trying to help students find the data they needed for their research, Mrs. Chamberlain realized that some of their questions were ones even she didn’t know the answers to! So just like that, the Big Numbers Project turned into a opportunity for our students to reach out to some local subject-area experts, with students fanning out across campus to find the information they needed to be successful in their quest. (Thanks to Dr. Loy, Maureen Cooper, Barbara Heath, Dean Hodecker, Peter Richardson, and others for their patient assistance!)

Once students had received final approval on their proposals, they needed to gather information, formulate how they would arrive at their answer, talk to adults who they might not otherwise connect with, create a presentation-worthy document or poster, and present their results. Hearing the students talk about their work made it clear that this project offered them many learning opportunities:

Malcom W. Showing all my work was one of the hardest things, and drawing the picture was also challenging. My mom helped me get a pedometer, which was a big help. (Malcom decided that he wanted to find the number of steps he took in a school year.)

Sraghvi A. The most challenging parts for me were thinking of the project and showing my work… it’s easier for me to just do work in my head. The fun part was having the freedom of doing it for myself, and to have the choice of project, and the choice of whether to present on paper or by computer. My question was about how much money Rutgers Prep gets in 30 years, and then we talked about all the things that we use that money for.

Daniel I. My question was: “In the middle school, how many times do kids flush a toilet during a school year?” I estimated that it would maybe be 200,000. It was actually 146,200. I was asking a lot of questions like how am I going to figure this out, and who do I need to talk to to find out the things I need to know. I talked to Mr. Marotto; I think that his job might be a cool one to have, because you can boss people around!

Teresa H. My question was, “How many lightbulbs and light fixtures do we have at Rutgers Prep?” It turned out to be 660 lightbulbs. First I wanted to find out how many fixtures there were, and I used our room to estimate that, but then I decided to count lightbulbs because that would get me a bigger number.

Michael C. It was fun. I had an idea to count how many spoons middle school students use in a whole school year, but then I decided to count forks. We use more of those.

Karishma K. I wondered how many pounds of food do we waste in the Dining Commons every school year. I estimated that it would be 390, but the answer was actually 504. There are three bins that you can dispose of food in, so I figured out how much there was in one bin. A few of my ideas were just not doable. Like I wondered how many letters in the English Language does the average student write over the course of a school year. (Karishma also learned that our food is not wasted; RPS uses these bins to collect and then compost the material.)

Because each student’s question was specific to them, every student was able to challenge him- or herself at an appropriate level, while their teacher had an opportunity to assess the mathematical understanding of her students at the beginning of the year. Now these students have moved on to honing and expanding their skills, sometimes with the help of Tabtor. (Tabtor is an instructor-driven, personalized math tutoring program on iPad for grades K-6.)

Personalized and student-centered instruction is at the heart of the Rutgers Prep experience, and we are happy to see our fifth graders developing a personal sense of the power of big numbers and mathematics!


Designing A Dream

This winter we’ve seen  our middle school students hard at work designing their dream homes. With the help of consulting architect Ms. Kathryn Gibbs, and under the guidance of their teacher, Ms. Leslee Atiram, each student worked through a complex process which included multiple drafts, lots of math, and many pages of graph paper.

Students began the project by looking at existing architectural examples for inspiration, and were then introduced to the real-world constraints that they would need to operate within, including the need to purchase land, the necessity of hallways, doors and kitchens, and the realities of working within a budget.

Once the students had completed initial drafts of their blueprints, Ms. Gibbs, who is the parent of three Rutgers Prep “lifers” and an industrial engineer by profession, spoke with the students about her work and then went around the room looking at blueprints, giving individualized feedback as well as advice about real-life extras (e.g. heating systems, water and plumbing, enhanced structural support for specialized rooms, etc.). Finally students mounted their blueprints as well as their detailed budget updates for display. “I liked designing a place that I would actually like to live in if I could,” said one student. When asked about the work involved, another student shared, “Well, it does take a lot of math to build a dream house, of course, but that’s true in real life, too.”

During a walk-through of their final projects, students were most excited about the ways in which they had personalized their imagined homes. One student explained that visitors to his dream apartment would be pleased to discover that the guest bedroom is directly across from his in-home arcade. One house has a refrigerated cheese room, another a fireman’s pole for quick access to the lower level. One student’s home has its own bowling lane, while another dedicated some financial reserves to a “woman cave,” a petting pig area, and a tropical fish tank. Each student was quite persuasive about the merits of their own design, while also clearly admiring the creativity of their classmates. They could each demonstrate that they had learned about perimeter, area, budgeting, and so much more. Their level of engagement was evident, and it was easy to imagine these Middle School students in a few more years, happily taking on even more complex architectural projects as students in our Upper School Architectural Design courses.

We are fortunate to have a community which is full of such lively and intelligent young learners, and grateful for the ways in which their teacher and special parent partner are able to support them in their dreaming.

We encourage all of our students to “dream big”