January 2014, Vol. 4: Issue 1                                                                                 "A Great Place to Learn."


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In This Issue
Wampus Students Learn About Natural Disasters
Kindergartners Use iPads to Try Out Digital Publishing
Seventh Graders Embody Revolutionary War Figures
Scientists' Contributions Come Alive

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Wampus Students Learn About 

Natural Disasters


Thanks to Hurricane Sandy and the freak Halloween nor'easter in 2011, many Wampus Elementary School students know about natural disasters. So this year, enrichment teacher Judy Brewster decided to replace the weather unit that she usually teaches to some third and fourth graders with one on natural disasters.


The unit is answering questions that the children have about hurricanes and other storms - and even addressing a few fears.


Third grader William Dyer


"If you learn the science behind natural disasters, and you can understand it, it's not as scary," noted Ms. Brewster. Advanced learners selected to participate in the 10-week unit are learning not only about hurricanes, but also about disasters ranging from tsunamis to volcanoes.


The children are using a series of e-books on natural disasters that were recently purchased for the Wampus library, thanks to the generosity of the Byram Hills Education Foundation. "I'm excited to use the e-books," said Ms. Brewster, explaining that the children are benefiting from being able to view the same books simultaneously, which helps the class collaborate. They can use features of the e-books to take notes, highlight passages or look up words they don't know.


Colton Millar researches earthquakes.


The enrichment program, which Ms. Brewster teaches with Meg Johnston, also includes units on the rainforest, cultures, the Hudson River, and other topics that combine English and language arts, social studies, and science skills. About 25 children take part in each unit, with children selected for each based on their academic abilities and interests. The natural disaster unit builds both science and language skills, such as speaking and reading. Ms. Brewster said the natural disaster e-books tie in with the Common Core's greater emphasis on non-fiction. She will be able to use the books to help students become more comfortable with reading texts and understanding charts, for instance.   


For the students, one of the best parts of the class is the chance to build simulations of some types of storms. Towards the end of the unit, each student will pick a specific disaster and present what they learned about it. They will prepare a PowerPoint, video newscast, or poster and present it to the class.

 Kindergartners Use iPads to 

Try Out Digital Publishing

Kimberly Eagle uses an iPad to write a story.

When a group of kindergartners at the Coman Hill School recently took turns using iPads to write and illustrate simple stories about their lives, they didn't know that they were helping the district find effective ways to use wireless technology in the classroom. Or that they were starting to learn keyboarding skills. They just knew that they liked working on iPads.


"This is a lot more fun than crayons," said Charlotte Sanders as she used her finger to "draw" a picture on the iPad screen. "You get to do work like a grown-up," added her classmate, Kimberly Eagle.


The kindergartners, along with other Byram Hills students, are benefiting from the district's recent overhaul of its network infrastructure. Because the upgrade increased the network's capabilities and boosted connection times, it can now support more wireless tablets and computers in the classroom. District educators quickly took notice, proposing a variety of pilot uses for wireless technology and apps.


Kindergarten teacher Jean White and special education teacher Robin Zilli teamed up to try out an app called StoryKit, which has been installed on 10 iPads shared by the two classes. StoryKit, available free through the University of Maryland, is being used by the teachers to supplement the traditional kindergarten writing curriculum. It enables the children to write and illustrate a story, as well as narrate the words to play back later.


"This type of technology is a part of their lives," said Ms. White, adding that the app helps the children learn their way around a keyboard - an important skill for this generation of students.   Ms. Zilli said the app works well with the existing curriculum, which stresses traditional writing and drawing. In fact, the children first write and draw their story before putting it on StoryKit.


"It enhances what we already do," Ms. Zilli said.


Both teachers said StoryKit is well thought out, and grows with children as they progress from simple one-page stories to more complex ones. StoryKit can also help teachers meet various elementary school literacy standards found in the Common Core, the U.S.-led initiative that sets out a single set of educational standards for K-12 students. The Common Core, for example, calls for kindergarten students to explore digital tools to produce and publish writing.


Ms. White said the children took easily to using iPads during class, and love displaying their stories and playing the narration to classmates. "I'm impressed with the way they've embraced it as a learning tool."  


 Seventh Graders Embody Revolutionary War Figures

Students do library research for their monologues.

You can study about George Washington or Molly Pitcher in class, but there's nothing like becoming them to really teach you about their lives.


Every year, seventh graders at HC Crittenden choose individuals from the Revolutionary War, and prepare and deliver a dramatic monologue from their perspective. The two-month project begins in November when teachers introduce the Revolutionary War, which forms a major part of the seventh-grade social studies curriculum. Students then research their individuals, the role they played during the war and defining moments of their lives. They turn their knowledge into a monologue that they deliver to classmates in January.


"They focus on an individual in a dramatic moment in his or her life and answer the question 'Can an individual make a difference?' " said social studies teacher Christina Bonitatibus. Along the way, students learn more about the Revolutionary War, develop research skills and try their hand at speech writing. They even dress up in Revolutionary War-era clothes when they deliver their speech - and many stay in costume for the whole day.


"The idea is to make history come alive - to give the students a sense that these were real people making critical decisions that impacted America at the time and America today," said Social Studies teacher Lili Van Zanten.


Although many of the students initially think they want to become one of the main heroes of the war - figures like Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Samuel Adams - they choose by lottery. The students who end up with lesser-known figures, however, often particularly enjoy the project because they are learning new material and have an opportunity to teach it to others.  


Amina Chace learned about Molly Pitcher - who was given that name because she travelled with her husband during the war, and brought water to soldiers. She reportedly also took over her husband's cannon when he was injured in battle.


"We get to learn about all of these people who you never knew about like Molly Pitcher," said Amina, adding that she had also found out that women played an important role in the war. "It's very intriguing that we're learning about people who lived such a long time ago, but had such an impact on how our country runs today," said classmate Alex Robbins, who is portraying Samuel Adams.


While recently working on the project in the school library, several students said it had taught them how to do research using a variety of sources, such as books, articles and the Internet, and how to organize it for later use. The students are also making use of the library's new collection of e-books - which enable several students to read the same material simultaneously, according to librarian Barbara Barthelmes.


Ms. Bonitatibus said the project challenges the students to find different ways of making their monologues interesting to other students.


"It's not a typical research paper," she said. "They are writing non-fiction, but they want to add a creative twist to make it exciting." 

Scientists' Contributions Come Alive Through 
Chemistry Heritage Project
Chemistry student Nicole Nagura presents her research to classmates.

In recent years, the Byram Hills High School "Ghosts of Chemistry Past" project gave students an opportunity to research a scientist and design a tombstone about their life in keeping with the Halloween season.


This year, however, the teachers changed the project to give chemistry students a more authentic science experience. Instead of designing tombstones, students created posters and presented research to small groups of teachers and students at Bobcat Hall - just like scientists at academic and professional conferences.


The newly renamed "Chemistry Heritage Project" still starts with chemistry students choosing one of about 50 scientists who the teachers believe made an important contribution to science.


"The students research their work and discuss how it impacted science at the time, and how it impacted science later on," said science teacher Evan Horowitz. A student studying Marie Curie would relate her discoveries of radioactivity and radium, along with discussing how her work contributed to the later development of nuclear weapons and energy.


The students gain a greater appreciation for how scientists often build on each other's work. Like its predecessor, the Chemistry Heritage Project gives students an opportunity to learn about scientists who were important but never became household names. Because the students become experts about their scientist during the month-long project, they can expand or even lead classroom discussions. The student who studies Dmitri Mendeleev, the father of the modern periodic table, might be called upon to recap his research when the class is studying elements.


"The students love it when 'their' scientist comes up in the curriculum," said Mr. Horowitz. Along with Mr. Horowitz, chemistry teachers Peter Lichten, Steve Borneman and Kristin Budden were also involved in the project. Mr. Lichten said the project provides a way for students to go beyond the curriculum. Some of the scientists who are studied never come up in the high school science texts or are just mentioned in passing.


"You have those times in class when all of a sudden a student will rattle off a few facts they remember from their project," said Mr. Lichten. "It adds a little flair to what we're learning in class." 



Our Mission
In an environment of mutual respect, the Byram Hills School District and its community 
will provide students with the means, the knowledge, and the opportunity to excel 
in order to become productive and responsible citizens of the 21st century.

Byram Hills School District Board of Education: 
Mr. Ira Schulman, President;
Mr. Brett Summers, Vice President;  
 Dr. Leslie Blum (Cziner); Dr. Alban Burke; Ms. Robin Glat; Ms. Joyce Meiklejohn; Dr. Ann Tedesco

Dr. Bill Donohue, Superintendent
   Classroom Connection is published by Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES