Northampton Public Schools Superintendent Blog

NPS Highlights for October 2012 School Committee Meeting

Posted on: October 18, 2012

Highlights of Northampton Public Schools

October 2012

Bridge St. School:

Challenging Our Students at Bridge Street:

1. The Kindergarten classes at BSS have been reading and dramatizing 4 different fairy tales this past month.  The fairy tales being covered are, Goldilocks, 3 Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood and 3 Billy Goats Gruff.  The students have made props for all four plays and dramatize the stories in small groups using various props and costumes.  The students have a chance to act out different characters each time they dramatize. The kids have really enjoyed dramatizing the stories and get very into their characters!  Students have also read and compared fractured fairy tales.  Students also write a plan each day for which character they will be.  This writing process not only teaches writing but also helps the student plan what and who they will be in each play!  We have video taped several of our plays and enjoy watching them!

2.  The first grade student are using weird but true facts from National Geographic.  Their weird but true fact that they are discussing right now is about wing spans being the same length as the bird’s body.  Students began asking questions about their arm length vs. their body length and are finding that they are the same.  Now they are curious if it’s the same for preschool students and fifth grade students.  The teachers are going to invite the preschoolers and fifth graders into their class to do some measuring of their bodies to see if the weird but true fact works for all ages of children.

3.   Mr. Dion’s 5th grade class recently studied the Constitution of the United States of America. The class learned all about how the Constitution came about and the events of the Constitutional Convention in May 1787. After reading the Preamble to the Constitution the class decided to take on the challenge of re-writing the Preamble so that it would make sense to any 5th grader who wanted to read it. It was incredible to watch as the students broke it apart by line and identified challenging words. With references and dictionaries in hand, they set about putting the Preamble in their own words so that it would make more sense to them. Once it was all put together, with contributions from each group of students, a new Preamble was written. The finished product now hangs in our classroom.

RRK Finn Ryan Road:

 1.  Andrea Egitto’s first graders have posed a challenge to all of their schoolmates.  First graders in pairs have visited the other classes to show them a huge sunflower that is about 12 inches in diameter.  Classes are invited to estimate the actual number of seeds in the monster flower.  After all the estimates are collected, the first graders will count the seeds and award an extra recess to the class that comes the closest.  At first Ms. Egitto’s students answered, “No way,” when she asked if they thought they could count all the seeds.  However, as they thought about it, they came to believe that they will be able to do it.

2.  The 5th graders in Greg Kerstetter’s class decided together to measure the radius of the flower head and then use the formula for the area of a circle that they had learned in math class to find the area of the head in square inches.  After estimating the number of seeds in a square inch, they used that to estimate the seeds in the big flower.  While approaching the puzzle, they came to ask, “What is Pi anyway, and where did it come from?”

3.  The 4th graders in Sara Simmons’s class took a “democratic approach.”  First each student made an estimate.  Next, in table groups, they discussed their estimates and came to consensus on one estimate to put forward to the class.  When those group estimates were considered, the class voted on the one they felt was the most likely.  The process offered students the opportunity to consider how voting and consensus work, and whether or not they really represent the will of the people.

Interestingly, the final estimates from the 4th grade and those of the 5th grade were very close to each other.

Leeds School:

1.  Becky Lai, a  Smith college student in the AEMES (Achieving Excellence in Mathematics, Engineering and Sciences) program, is looking forward to working with the Leeds school kindergarten classrooms this fall. Becky will be working closely with her faculty advisers (Maria Bickar and Mona Kulp) in the Smith College chemistry department as well as the faculty at Leeds. She will also volunteer in the classrooms in the month of October so that she can develop a rapport with the children before she introduces the scientific concepts and experiments.

After an initial conversation with the kindergarten classroom teachers, Ms. Lajoie, Ms. Bennett and Ms, Taylor, we have picked “The chemistry of color” as a theme for our experiments. This seemed like a developmentally appropriate theme since it will require largely visual observations which are ideal for the children who are working on their reading and writing skills. Our experiments will introduce the chemical concepts of “separation” using paper chromatography to separate the individual colors in natural and artificial dyes. We will also study the properties of mixtures and compare mixtures of colors in different physical states (solid vs. liquid). Our goals are to introduce the children to the scientific process (developing a hypothesis, testing a hypothesis and sharing the results of their study) and to develop a better understanding of a concept (color) that they interact with on a daily basis.

JFKMiddle School:

1. Grade Six Science Students:

Predator/Prey is a food web game the entire sixth grade will be playing in Look Park on Thursday, October 4th. Predator/Prey is an interactive tag game, which allows students to learn about the food web by becoming a part of it.  This is a wonderful way for students to actively learn about the ways in which different kinds of organisms interact, and is part of our current Ecology unit.  It is also a fantastic community-building opportunity.

In this activity, small groups of students take on the roll of either producers, consumers, or decomposers.   The object of this game is to tag as many people from the groups lower on the food chain as possible. Likewise, if you are prey, your goal is not to get caught and “eaten.”


After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  • Give examples of ways in which organisms interact and have different functions within an ecosystem that enable the ecosystem to survive.
  • Explain the roles and relationships among producers, consumers, and decomposers in the process of energy transfer in a food web.
  • Explain how dead plants and animals are broken down by other living organisms and how this process contributes to the system as a whole.

2. Grade Seven Green Revolution – Science: Crayfish Lab;

Students in science class began the year with an introduction to the scientific method through an inquiry lab focused on the analysis of crayfish. The purpose of the lab was to introduce students to analytical inquiry through observation. Students were to observe the crayfish, generate ideas about the life, habitat and behaviors of crayfish, and finally record a list of 5 questions.

With direction, questions were then used in an applied instructive activity where questions were analyzed to determine which questions, if tested, would yield qualitative or quantitative results or which ones were general inferences.

As an extension, students were then asked to design an experiment that they could “test” in class, providing an authentic scientific experimental medium to apply the foundations of the scientific method, drawing upon observational skills developed during the earlier crayfish activity. Each student performed their own authentic inquiry activity by observing, collecting data, and then determining whether or not their data supported the hypothesis.

3. Grade 8  Science: Carbon Knights Science:

Recent model building exercises pertaining to plate tectonics and earthquakes will culminate in a design challenge where student teams will be tasked with constructing a multi-story building that can withstand a simulated high-magnitude quake. Knowledge of modern engineering gained in this activity will support investigations of how humans and modern society are impacted by other natural disasters and hazards that are experienced both regionally and the world over.

NorthamptonHigh School:

Rachel StavelyHale, Math Teacher: I used my new Smart clickers to do a homework quiz with my AP Stats students for the first time today! They are going to be a powerful tool for formative assessment and, unlike my old clickers, work in conjunction with my Smart board, allowing students to instantly see how they did as individuals and as a class. This allows students to have immediate feedback on their understanding and helps me know what needs review and what we can move forward with. Hooray for technology!
Barbara Bitgood, French Teacher: French 2 students created a wall-sized annotated map of Northampton, complete with pictures and descriptions of important locations in town.  I am also launching a pen pal exchange with a teacher in France.  Students in French 1, 2 and 3 will be participating in this exchange.

Leslie Prudhomme, Science Teacher: My AP Biology class has been working on kinesthetic modeling of the entire process of photosynthesis….they are NOT allowed to talk during the presentation, they can create “characters” around some feature and that character can talk…they have about 30 minutes and lots of craft supplies as well as “dress up” items to get geared up in. It is a crazy looking thing and EVERY class produces a different process but it really is CRAZY how much they work through what is considered a boring and tedious cycle because of all the biochemistry.

Linda Pickreign, Culinary Arts Teacher: We are about to embark upon collaborating within the English Dept. to incorporate food ‘reviews and evaluations’ for the Core Values of our beginning to write across the curriculum. How wonderful that English academic students are given the opportunity to learn such a wonderful skill within this standard and to enjoy a ‘tasty one’ to boot!

Eric Newman, Science Teacher: Physics Students will watch the taped event of the world record attempt for a free-fall high dive. This event will feature Felix Baumgartner attempting to break the sound barrier during a 120,000 ft. sky dive.  Students did calculations of the velocity during the descent. Students had planned to meet at the Haymarket Cafe to watch the live streaming but the event had been postponed several times due to weather conditions.

Jenny Podel: a Physics and Education student from Smith will be working with Mechanical and AP Physics students on a series of guided discovery activities pertaining to the little understood field of granular materials. Highlights include work with NASA on understanding the propulsion of the Mars Rover, robotic arm design, and industrial applications. The series includes in-class demonstration sessions, followed up by student explorations and presentations. The first session is in mid-October.

Physics students duplicated Galileo’s early work on accelerated motion, culminating in experimentally determining ‘g’, the acceleration due to gravity by dropping bowling balls of the roof of NHS. The data was excellent, we got a drum roll from the band, the maintenance staff assisted, and no one was hurt. Win, win, win!

Kate Todhunter, History Teacher: It is banned book week this week which coincides with my teaching of Nazi censorship and book burning in history of the holocaust. Gail and I put together a nice little lesson in the library discussing these issues, banned books of today, etc.

Mark Baldwin, History Teacher: All history students will be writing papers using the National History Day theme and guidelines. All juniors will definitely be using History Day standards. This year’s theme is TURNING POINTS in History. Dovetailing nicely with that is a renewed focus on literacy, in particular the effective use of primary sources at all grade levels in all classes.

Heather Brown, English Teacher:  Honors English 2 (American Lit.) comparing styles of Hawthorne to Frederick Douglass. Planning to tour Historical sites connected to Douglass and Sojourner Truth on 10/19 through the Ruggles Center.   Planning to collaborate Writing class with community pre-school on reading and writing a play project in October & November.

Mr. Brill’s: Senior World Literature African Unit: He followed up a reading of Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe with a reading of a short story “The Headstrong Historian” by Chimamanda Adichie, an admirer of Achebe’s work. The end of her story pays tribute to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and takes his novel to another level. In addition, Mr.Brill used YouTube technology and showed an Adichie speech “The Dangers Of A Single Story” to raise the critical thinking skills of his class by having them compare a media piece to the story and the novel.

Students in both classes commented on how much they enjoyed this part of the Africa unit. One said, “This exercise really helped me understand the importance of seeing and being open to more than one point of view. This is actually something I can actually use in real life; it’s not just analyzing some poem I’ll never see again.” Another student wrote, ” I enjoy this multimode approach of comparing THREE things: a novel, a short story, and a YouTube and they all connect with each other. Never done this before, and it’s fun AND challenging.” A number of students felt it enhanced their understanding of the main work of the unit, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Trish Armstrong: In Wellness 2, students have studied lifestyle factors which promote health, disease prevention, happiness, quality of life and longevity.  We have compared lifestyles of 50-100 years ago to the modern American lifestyle and have looked specifically at contributing factors such as the way we eat:  processed foods, eating out more frequently, consuming sugar sweetened beverages, inflated portions, and eating foods high in calories, fat, sugar and salt.  Other factors, such as technology and the way we build our communities have been studied at how they contribute to being sedentary.  Students have learned about 3 major lifestyle diseases:  heart disease, obesity and diabetes and guest speaker Cathy Bertinuson from Cooley Dickinson’s Center for Excellence in Diabetes Education visited our classroom.  For their projects, students are conducting Wellness interviews with their teachers, where they will be invited to assess their teacher’s level of wellness and provide support in areas where needed.
Exciting times in Wellness 2!!!!!

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