Fairy Tales Reinvented

Written in collaboration by Upper School English teacher Sheryl Forste-Grupp and Lower School Library and Media Specialist Emily Woodward.


In the senior elective class titled “Fairy Tales Reinvented,” students read a variety of European fairy tales and discuss how those tales reflect and critique society.

Students talked about how most people assume that fairy tales are only meant to convey moral and behavioral lessons to younger children. They learned that this assumption dates back to Ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher Plato argued in The Republic that impressionable children should no longer be told imaginative, traditional stories by their nurses and mothers but should only hear serious stories sanctioned by the Greek city-state government. The seniors then considered their own experience with reading fairy tales when they were younger. They talked about how the messages of these stories and whether the messages were evolving.

For the culmination of this unit, each student selected an illustrated book from the Lower School library. Some girls chose a childhood favorite like “Rumpelstiltskin” or “The Egyptian Cinderella.” Some chose a story which challenged typical fairy tale convention such as “Princess Furball.” They analyzed their story for voice, character and message. Then they wrote a book teaser or advertisement for the book for a Lower School audience. They also wrote a review of the book for an adult audience. The book teasers were displayed in the Lower School library and on the bulletin board.

To culminate their study, the seniors were matched with second grade girls. This also kicked off our second grade’s library unit on fairy tales.  Together they sat and the seniors read their fairy tale books to their new friends. The seniors asked questions to engage the younger students: would you do the same thing? How would you feel if that happened to you? What do you predict will happen next? What do you think the moral of the story is?

The seniors were impressed by how “the Baldwin lower schoolers [were] very quick to speak their minds” about the stories. Josephine Gantz ’18 remarked that “They were extremely attentive and listened to us carefully as we read the stories. Whenever we asked questions they answered us thoughtfully with huge smiles on their faces.” When the reading time ended, Maya Hairston ’18 said,  “We did a big group hug at the end, and they told me to say hi to them in the halls.”

Update and Enhance Your Library

Cultivated by our school librarians, enjoy these book recommendations to find new favorites and new ways to upgrade and enhance your personal collection.  Discover something for every child ranging from Pre-K through Grade 12.  Purchase on Amazon Smile to support our school.

Lower School Recommendations

not quite narwhalNot Quite Narwhal (Grades Pre-K and up)
Jessie Sima
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Kelp was born under the sea in a clamshell. He feels he is different from the other narwhals; he can’t swim as quickly, and he is less than enthusiastic about their squid dinners. One day he gets swept away by a current and sees a figure like himself! Pursuing the phantom, Kelp must swim for hours and learn to walk on land which is no easy feat. He eventually finds the unicorns (or land narwhals as he calls them). Kelp loves learning and tasting new things, but will he go back to his narwhal home?  Not Quite Narwhal is a fantastic book for any age about acceptance, being yourself, and understanding differences can be good.

pink lionPink Lion (Grades Pre-K – 1)
Jane Porter
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Arnold is a pink lion who happily grows up thinking he’s a flamingo. When a gang of lions comes by they insist that Arnold is a lion and should come with them. The pink lion isn’t a big fan of licking himself clean, hunting, or roaring. But when he tries to go back to his flamingo family, things aren’t as they seem.  A nice book about adoption, acceptance and families.

marta-2f3emddMarta! Big & Small (Grades Pre-K-1)
Jen Arena
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Marta is a clever girl who lives in a jungle and knows Spanish. She teaches the reader descriptive words as well as animal names throughout the book. Marta shows the reader how she’s slow compared to a horse, but fast when matched with a turtle. When a snake arrives on the scene, will Marta be as tasty as she looks? She is ingeniosa and escapes with a smile.  This fun little book incorporates Spanish & English, opposites, similarities, comparisons and animals.

rolling-thunder-rpqxmh-1bshdxjRolling Thunder (Grades K-2)
Kate Messner
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A fresh look at Memorial Day through the eyes of a boy who accompanies his biker grandpa on the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally in Washington DC. Grandpa rides for those he was with in Vietnam, and the youth rides for his Uncle who is currently enlisted and deployed. After camping out, the pair ride to the Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Wall Memorial. The concepts of POWs, MIAs, and death is brought up, but not explained in depth. The poetic verse and pastel pictures provide a powerful, yet appropriate message for young and old alike.

waterprincess-12izdweThe Water Princess (Grades K-3)
Susan Verde
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This gorgeous picture book is based on the childhood experience of fashion model and activist Georgie Badiel. A princess, named Gie Gie, has a magnificent kingdom and wonderful powers. But the one thing she wishes for, to make the water come closer, Gie Gie cannot do. Every day she and her mother walk miles to get water, “dusty, earth-colored liquid.” Gie Gie dances with her mother on the journey there and plays with her friends while her mother waits in line for their turn. When they arrive home, mother boils water for them to drink. Gie Gie cleans their clothes, and the dinner is fixed. The next morning the journey for water is to be repeated again. This book is a gentle, positive way to introduce the struggle some societies have over water. It is also based on a true story and has pictures in the back of Georgie Badiel and how she raised money for a well in a school situated in an area with no water. A great introductory read for a service project and to help students be aware of what some children struggle with.

day i became a birdThe Day I Became a Bird (Grades 1 and up)
Ingrid and Guridi Chabbert
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In this sweet and unusual book, a boy falls in love with a girl for the first time. She however, only has eyes for the birds. The boy decides instead of passively waiting, to do something that will definitely catch her attention.  Whether in class or on the soccer field, he wholeheartedly makes a transformation into a large bird. Will it be enough?

dyamonde daniel seriesThe Dyamonde Daniel Series (Grades 1-3)
Nikki Grimes
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Dyamonde Daniel is a spunky, outgoing girl whose classmates go through a variety of difficulties. The topics feel genuine (being new in school, someone who lives in a homeless shelter, a classmate who loses everything in a house fire) to the story and are great discussion topics with students.


lou lou and pea

Lou Lou & Pea and the Mural Mystery (Grades 2-5)
Jill Diamond,‎ Lesley Vamos
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Throughout this beautifully illustrated mystery two best friends need to use their gardening and art skills to bring about justice. Smatterings of Spanish (with a lovely glossary in the back), a close-knit neighborhood including beautiful murals, and a Día de los Muertos celebration bring this multicultural story to life. Great for readers who grew out of Ivy & Bean and love a little mystery.


sybil ludingtonSybil Ludington: Revolutionary War Rider  (Grades 3-6)
E. F. Abbott
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Sybil Ludington is part of a spy family during the Revolutionary War. Her father, in charge of a unit of militiamen, needed help with the war effort.  When someone is needed to gather her father’s men to fight, sixteen-year-old Sybil braves numerous dangers to sound the alarm. A very interesting book about a period in time not many know about. There are historical photographs and pictures throughout the book.

goodstory-2i326zw-vmuxk0This Would Make a Good Story Someday (Grades 4-8)
Dana Alison Levy
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Sara is going into Middle School after the summer and has detailed plans to spend time with her friends and improve herself. But surprise, Mimi (one of Sara’s moms) has won a month long train trip! Mimi is going to write about the trip and their family, college age Laurel, her boyfriend Root, Sara, their other mom, and Li, the little sister. Sara does not want any part of it but is dragged along anyway. To make matters worse, the other prize winner and his family are going to be traveling companions with them.


Middle and Upper School Recommendations

optimists-rjnhm3-2jhlnbiOptimists Die First (Grades 7 and up)
Susan Nielsen
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Petula is scared of everything and spends her days thinking of the myriad ways in which people can be killed. Before the accident that killed her little sister, Petula was an average adolescent girl with a passion for crafting.  Petula, however, has never stopped blaming herself for what happened, and she has cut herself off from everything that reminds her of that time, including crafting, and her best friend. When Petula meets Jacob, a new boy with a prosthetic arm, a warm and open demeanor, and a tragic past of his own, her life slowly starts to knit back together. Jacob, however, is keeping a huge secret, and when Petula inevitably finds out, it completely alters the way she views him.  Nielsen does a wonderful job getting into Petula’s psyche; the way her grief and guilt manifests will hit home to a lot of people.  Petula is constantly hounded by that little voice going “If only…,” a voice that beleaguers everyone at some point in their lives.  While the heavy emphasis on crafting may turn some people off, at its heart, it is a story about two lost, grieving souls finding each other, and finding joy.

namestheygaveus-1f0jotw-1ds4003The Names They Gave Us (Grades 7 and up)
Emery Lord
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This is a book about the power to shift your perceptions, and the lasting impact it can have on your life.  Lucy is secure in her faith; her father is a pastor, and Lucy genuinely enjoys going to church each week, and she especially looks forward to being a counselor at Bible camp each summer.  However, after learning that her mother’s cancer has returned, Lucy’s faith is completely shaken.  Her parents convince her to try a new camp this summer, Daybreak, a camp for “troubled” kids, where her mom believes she’ll find solace and kinship. Lucy is skeptical, and after her rocky start, she’s sure she’ll never fit in, or be any help to anybody. Thankfully for Lucy, her fellow counselors are welcoming and forgiving; Lucy finds that the more open she is with them, the more open they are with her. These diverse teens challenge everything she thought she knew and believed; it’s a pleasure to watch Lucy’s transformation as she explores what it means to be a true friend. When Lucy discovers something shocking about her mom’s past, connected to Daybreak, it will test her literal new found faith, and her new relationships. Every teenager should read this book to learn about what compassion looks like, and what allyship looks like, as Lucy expresses and embodies both.

eliza-1wtt7fg-1sxs4jmEliza and Her Monsters (Grades 7 and up)
Francesca Zappia
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Fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl who have been looking for a follow-up, look no further!  Eliza has a huge secret; she is the author and creator of the webcomic Monstrous Sea.  Since she is only known as LadyConstellation online nobody knows her true identity.  While she is an internet superstar, her offline life is less than ideal. Eliza feels beleaguered and misunderstood by her classmates, and her parents, who are baffled by her ties to her “fake” internet friends, and her desire to spend all of her time on her phone or computer. Then hulking, football player-looking Wallace comes into her life.  Wallace, who inexplicably and shockingly is a huge fan of Monstrous Sea, writes his own stellar fanfic too; a more unlikely pair you won’t find.  The slow build up of their friendship is well done; there is some skeptical orbiting, followed by cautious interaction, and eventually, full-fledged trust.  However, when Eliza’s secret is exposed her entire world comes crashing spectacularly down around her. Even if you’re not into webcomics or fandom, Eliza is a relatable character; her love of her digital community, her desire to spend all of her time with her friends, and her mixed feelings for her parents and siblings are all things that teens will identify with.

strangerdreamer-1zt2k1s-19edkowStrange the Dreamer (Grades 7 and up)
Laini Taylor
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A city with no name. A boy with no past.  A girl with no future.  Though it sounds bleak, Laini Taylor’s newest novel, Strange the Dreamer, is a magical, imaginative, heartbreaking story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.  Lazlo Strange is an orphan, and a dreamer, with little memory of his childhood, save for the day that the name of the city was taken from him, and replaced with the name “Weep.” Consumed with a desire to know more, Lazlo, through an accident of fate, becomes a librarian, and garners all he can about the enigmatic city, including its language. When an entourage from Weep arrives, looking for people to come help solve a mysterious problem, Lazlo jumps at the chance. Meanwhile, in Weep, Sarai, a blue-skinned demi-goddess, is stuck; she and her three companions are trying to navigate an increasingly grim future by using their gifts, bestowed upon them by their god and goddess parents. Sarai is a dream walker, but uses her abilities to bestow nightmares on the people of Weep, punishing them nightly for their treachery.  When Sarai enters Lazlo’s dream, it unleashes an unexpected and intense series of events that will forever change the lives of the dreamers, and all of those around them. Highly recommended to all fantasy lovers.

wild beautyWild Beauty (Grades 8 and up)
Anna-Marie McLemore
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Wild Beauty is a story about a family of women who have the ability – a compulsion, really – to grow flowers simply by reaching into the soil and willing them into existence.  As with all good stories, however, it is much more complex. Up until about a century ago, the Nomeolvides women had been persecuted, hunted, shunned, or killed because of their gifts. When they are offered sanctuary at La Pradera on the estate of the wealthy Briar family, they take it gratefully. It comes with a price, of course: the Nomeolvides women can never leave; if they try to escape, or outrun their destiny, they will die. La Pradera also takes their lovers; if a Nomeolvides woman loves someone too hard, they disappear. This is a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, jealousy, but above all, family, and the lengths one will go to to protect those she loves.

languageofthorns-24zbqdw-2nj7bk2The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic (Grades 8 and up)
Leigh Bardugo
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Leigh Bardugo reimagines classic tales in her newest collection of stories, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Every story here is a gem, but there are two standouts.  “Amaya and the Thorn Wood” is a spin on the Minotaur myth, with a hint of “Beauty and the Beast.” It is a story of two outcasts, both of whom are ostracized because of their looks, and both of whom are second-fiddle to their more attractive, more talented siblings. Through a shared love of stories, they redefine the idea of a “happy ending.” “The Witch of Duva,” a take on “Hansel and Gretel,” challenges the tropes of the evil stepmother, and the child-snatching witch, and explores the ways in which women mistrust each other; it is richly told, and Bardugo once again utilizes repetition to great effect. A common thread throughout the book is the complexity and diversity of women; each tale forces the reader to confront their own preconceived notions of how women should behave. Give this to lovers of fairy tales, self-proclaimed feminists, and anyone who needs a wake-up call about a woman’s place in society.

the upside of unrequitedThe Upside of Unrequited.  (Grades 8 and up)
Becky Albertalli
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Becky Albertalli’s sophomore effort, The Upside of Unrequited, is just as delightful, irreverent, and charming as her first novel, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Molly believes she’s just an average girl, especially when she compares herself to her beautiful, shining star of a twin sister, Cassie. Despite Cassie’s insistence that anybody would be lucky to have her, Molly staunchly refuses to put herself out there, despite her 26 crushes over the years; the idea of rejection is just too unpalatable, and since she’s a self-described “fat girl”, way too likely.  Readers will cheer Molly on as she finds her courage, and figures out what she’s really looking for. Molly is the perfect blend of teenage cynicism, angst, self-doubt, and naivety, and she will resonate with anyone who has ever had a crush or felt the crushing weight of rejection.

logic-udtn4h-15drajuThe Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Grades 9 and up)
Benjamin Alire Saenz
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Sal never thought of himself as an angry kid.  And yet, here he is, getting into fight after fight for no real reason and hating himself because of it; Sal can’t help but wonder if he’s more like his biological father than he thought. As in Aristotle, parents and adults play a major role throughout the book.  Both Sal and his best friend, Samantha, are molded by their parents. Even though Sal has been raised by a steady, kind hearted, loving adoptive father, Vicente, a man who fully embraces the idea of turning the other cheek, he fears that, ultimately, his character will be shaped by the temperamental, unstable father he never knew. The matriarchs, Sal’s terminally ill grandmother, his deceased mother, and Samantha’s mother, also get a starring role here. This novel highlights in ways no other YA book in recent memory has just how powerful and pivotal adult-child relationships are and addresses head on the age old question of nature vs. nurture. Another powerhouse of a novel from Saenz. The platonic friendship between Sal and Samantha is a also refreshing change from the best-friend-to-boyfriend/girlfriend trope in many contemporary YA books.

hateugive-1vsz1gf-10tjbqeThe Hate U Give (Grades 9 and up)
Angie Thomas
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Starr Carter is leading a double-life.  There’s the Starr Carter who attends an exclusive private school with mostly white students, has a long-term boyfriend, who is also white, and who faces daily microaggressions.  Then there’s the Starr Carter who lives in a poor neighborhood overrun by gang violence, who has a father who used to be a gang member, and who is best friends (or is she?) with Khalil.  Starr thinks she has a handle on navigating these two worlds until the night she witnesses Khalil’s murder at the hands of a police officers.  Angie Thomas has written a provocative, moving, and often times enraging book that feels incredibly current, given the multiple deaths of unarmed black men in the last few years, and the resultant simmering anger across the nation.  Starr is a heroine of our time; her indecision, her fear, and her rage, are realistic; never do we, the reader, forget that she is just a sixteen year-old girl who has a monumental weight on her shoulders. Her support network, her family, her boyfriend, her friends, are extremely well-drawn; there are no caricatures here.  From feeling like an outsider wherever she is, to embracing, and melding, both selves into a confident young woman who finds her voice, Starr’s evolution is glorious to behold.  Her character is one that everyone can see themselves in – the impulse to hide parts of yourself in order to just get through the day is universal. While this is not an easy book to read, it will hopefully inspire empathy in those who do read it; an extremely worthwhile book for allies and advocates alike.

when dimple met rishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi (Grades 9 – 12)
Sandhya Menon
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Dimple Shah and Rishi Patel could not be more different.  Dimple is an independent young woman, passionate about coding, who feels confined by her parents’ expectations – specifically her mother’s, who seems bent on making Dimple into the perfect wife.  Rishi is a rule follower to his core; he wants nothing more to please his parents, even if that means setting aside his own dreams.  Rishi is thrilled with the idea of an arranged marriage with Dimple, something that he’s known about, and daydreamed about, for a long time.  Dimple, on the other hand, has no idea that there is any arrangement with Rishi, and anyway, marriage is the last thing on her mind.  So when the two of them meet for the first time at Insomnia Con, a summer coding program, it goes hilariously awry.  Sandhya Menon has written a delightful, smart, funny romantic comedy, starring two protagonists who think they know exactly what they want out of their lives, but after some unexpected revelations, realize maybe there’s more out there for both of them.  The way Menon depicts microaggressions, and the different ways that Rishi and Dimple deal with them – Dimple clams up, and Rishi confronts it head-on – is both realistic and poignant.


The Stuff of History

Written by Gretchen Boger, Upper School History teacher and History Department Chair, and Anne-Mette Hansell, Grade 5 Teacher; with contributions by Athan Biss, Upper School History teacher and Noor Bowman ’20.

When students in history class set out to learn about the past, they typically expect to read. They have a textbook, scholarly book or even historical fiction that provides a narrative about things that happened long ago. Recently, however, Baldwin students have found themselves invited to learn about history in a different way: not from books, but from stuff. Instead of reading about what the past was like, Baldwin girls have been figuring it out for themselves from the material objects left behind. The following accounts describe the experience of fifth graders, quite literally holding objects from ancient Egypt in their hands, and tenth graders, working their way like detectives through the lists of belongings left behind by 18th-century Americans.


DSC_0095Imagine holding a 4,000-year-old brain hook in your hand. The very tool the ancient Egyptians used during the mummification process to drain the brain from the deceased. They believed the brain was of no use!

Or imagine delicately holding a beautifully crafted shawabti or ‘answerer’ figurine. Picture yourself saying the magic word in the Afterlife and never again having to worry about chores. The shawabti springing to life was intended to make the Afterlife very comfortable indeed for all eternity.

These are just some of the ancient artifacts on loan for one month from the Penn Museum and in use in the 5th grade classroom. The girls study ancient civilizations during their year in 5th grade. The first such civilization is that of ancient Egypt. The girls read various sources, take notes and lay the foundation for a research paper with a whole host of topics pertaining to ancient Egypt. The extraordinary primary sources are all connected to ancient Egyptian life. They have prompted much wondering, questioning and newfound drive to find answers. Like researchers, archaeologists and egyptologists, the 5th graders have been able to question, wonder, reason and infer. Why is a brain hook so long and delicate yet strong? Strong enough to break through the nasal cavity? Or imagine for whom the beautiful shawabti doll was made. What kind of chores would the crude clay answerer be called to do? Hold a real canopic jar intended to contain the lungs of someone who died long ago. How do we know it held the lungs? Because the lid is decorated with the baboon headed god, Hapi, guarder of the lungs.

The students have photographed, cropped and learned to cite these artifacts. Soon they will be inserted in research papers bringing to life 4,000-year-old tools, everyday items and shawabti dolls in the imagination of Baldwin’s 5th grade Egyptologists.


Tenth and eleventh graders haven’t gotten their hands on actual colonial American goods, but instead, have found themselves puzzling over lists. Specifically, they have worked with records from an archive of digitized probate inventories from 18th-century colonial Virginia and Maryland, made available by George Mason University on its Probing the Past website. The inventories record every saleable item—or person—in the estate of a deceased American colonist, together with a value assigned to it by the assessors. Though originally used for legal settlements, the lists today provide a window into the material life of Chesapeake colonists—how they supported themselves, what kind of work was done in their households, with whom they might have lived, what items were of particular worth and so on. In trying to piece together a picture of life from a list of static objects, students learn many lessons along the way.

The first of these is a sober confrontation with slavery. It is one thing to know that Americans practiced slavery until the Civil War; it is another thing to see individual human beings listed with prices next to their names as part of a household inventory. Students grapple with this cold evidence of an economy built on the exploitation of humans in bondage. They are troubled to see people assigned different prices based on their ability to contribute to the labor of a household. As students make their way through pages listing many unfamiliar tools, they begin to realize that the heavy labor of providing for a household in early America—the farming, animal husbandry, carpentry, blacksmithing, weaving, sewing, knitting, cooking and cleaning required to keep a farm running—was performed primarily by the slaves themselves also listed on the record.

There are other lessons. Students learn etymology, discovering that many words once in common use no longer are familiar, and others that we think we know once meant something quite different. They see a “plate” listed in a storehouse, worth more than any other item on the inventory by a great deal, and finally a skeptical student speculates that it isn’t the same thing off which they eat dinner. And so they plunge into research in the Oxford English Dictionary, until someone, triumphant, discovers that plate once meant precious metals in bullion form. Likely this plate represented a plantation owner’s liquid wealth in an era before saving banks were prolific. Other etymology hunts ensue. A girl with a gleam in her eye deduces that a “bundle of blades” in the barn probably isn’t a set of cutting tools but more likely a wide-leafed crop … such as tobacco! One girl spots “diaper” in the linen closet and suspects there was a baby in the household; another frowns and asks what a “diaper tablecloth” might be. Together they discover that diaper was, in fact, a type of highly absorbent cotton.

As students continue making deductions from a list of goods, a picture starts to emerge in granular detail of a colonist’s home and life. They are discovering for themselves the ways in which life in the tidewater Chesapeake of the late 18th century must have been starkly different from the 21st century. As they grow invested in developing this historical snapshot, they come up against the questions they can’t answer. At some point the goods stop telling a tale, even to the shrewd detective. The student hits a stubborn unknown: Was this person married? Did he really make all this money practicing law, or did he inherit it? Why would someone keep “chocolate, bad” in the barn? This, too, is a lesson: that history doesn’t descend pre-written from on high but is pieced together carefully, even laboriously, from the clues that have lasted. The work of putting it together is a very different kind of work than passive absorption of facts already strung into a narrative by someone else. It requires critical thinking, careful noticing and even a bit of imagination. For Baldwin girls, investigating material goods is an introduction to writing history for themselves.

Noor Bowman ’20 researched the estate of Philip Thomas, Sr., a wealthy landowner from Annapolis, Maryland who died in 1763.  After puzzling over the inventory, Noor wrote that she “began to see this project as the story of Thomas’s slaves.” In order to dramatize their story Noor adopted a novelistic tone. In the excerpt that follows, Noor transforms a list of names and objects into a lively scene:

Meanwhile a slave named Bridget ,58 years of age, will be slicing her special butter cake in the kitchen. She made the cake with butter from the cellar, and baked it in one of the six baking pans found in the new kitchen. She calls Hannah, a slave of 28 years, to place the slices on four china plates and serve them in the hall. The hall is a decorated room meant to impress guests with an elaborate rug imported from Turkey.

Hannah hurries from the kitchen to the hall carefully carrying the four plates, when she is beckoned by Peter, a slave 27 years of age. Peter leans against the walkway of Thomas’s study holding a cloth brush found on a small old oak desk, playfully brushing his hair. As Hannah approaches he points to the parcel of books placed on an old wooden chair. Intrigued by these new books she reaches to open the parcel. But before she gets a chance to read the titles, she is reminded of the task at hand and continues toward the hall. She places the plates on a walnut waiter until the first guest asks for a slice.

Moments later Thomas looks at the clock and informs his guest he must depart to his study, to write a few letters. One to a tobacco distributor wishing to purchase some of his 27,145 pounds of tobacco. Another to a local restaurant interested in two barrels of corn and 20 pounds of bacon. When Thomas enters his study, he notices his brush and places it next to his 3 old Razors, in a case with a Hone strap. He then unlatches his gold watch, sits it on a writing stand and begins to write the letter on one of his 6 quire pieces of paper.  

Introducing the Lower School First Lego League

DSC_0037This week is Computer Science Education Week. Millions of students in schools around the world will participate in Hour of Code activities this week. Our Lower School students will be coding this week as well, but for Baldwin girls this is nothing new. In fact, already this year, Lower School girls have cumulatively logged more than 100 hours of coding and programming in the DREAM Lab®. While most of these hours take place during the school day, some of them happen after school during optional Open Lab sessions or during FLL Robotics Team Practice.

“FLL Robotics Team … what’s that?” you ask.

That’s right! This year, we have a Lower School First Lego League (FLL) robotics team and this Saturday, to cap off Computer Science Education Week, the Baldwin DREAMers, our team comprised of seven Lower School students in the fourth and fifth grade, will participate in a local FLL qualifying event at AIM Academy in Conshohocken.

Preparation for an FLL regional qualifier event is not an easy job! To participate in the event, the girls are required to complete a wide range of tasks including building and programming a robot, researching and prototyping an innovative solution to a real world problem and learning and demonstrating the FLL core values. The team has been meeting since late September, attending twice weekly practices, as well as squeezing in additional practice times during lunches, open labs and even the occasional Friday evening pizza party.

This year the theme for the season was “Animal Allies.” For the project portion of the program, the girls were tasked with identifying an interaction between humans and animals that they could improve through innovation. The DREAMers addressed a problem most PA drivers are all too familiar with – deer collisions on our roads. They decided to give the most common solution, a yellow sign with a deer on it, a much-needed upgrade. The DREAMers new sign features the familiar image of a deer, but the sign is also outfitted with a sensor to trigger lights that change to alert a driver that an animal has been sensed in the area, as well as strobes and sound effects to deter an approaching deer. To create a working prototype of their sign, the girls enlisted the help of Baldwin’s resident expert in electrical engineering, Ryan Barnes, as well as their coaches, Stephanie Greer and Peter Greenhalgh. In their original prototype, the girls took advantage of the LittleBits library in the DREAM Lab and created a simple circuit to trigger an LED when motion was detected. For their improved design, the girls took it up a notch and dove into the world of Arduino programming.

The DREAMers would like the Baldwin community to know that deer season is upon us here in Pennsylvania, and while the new sign is not quite ready to hit the roads just yet, there are a few simple things drivers can do to keep the road safer this season for both people and deer.

  • Slow down if you know deer are likely to be in the area.
  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Look for the shine of eyes reflecting on the roadside and slow down immediately.
  • Flash your lights and honk your horn to get a deer frozen in headlights to move on.

If you see any of our team members in the halls this week, be sure to wish them luck! Happy Computer Science Education Week!

If you are interested in giving programming and coding a try, be sure to check out www.code.org and try one of their many Hour of Code activities.

Global Learning-More than Just Checking a Box

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain

Upper School students visit Peru during a language immersion trip.

Representing the Baldwin School, Kelly Schonour, Assistant Lower School Director, and Cindy Lapinski, Middle School Director, had the opportunity to participate in a conference hosted by the Holton-Arms School outside of Washington, D.C., on September 29-October 1. This conference, Global Gathering: Pedagogies and Passports, invited educators to think about how to infuse global learning in a meaningful way both inside the classroom and beyond. The two attended a number of different workshops, led by speakers as well as participants. One of the most interesting experiences of the weekend was the “un-conference” sessions. These informal sessions were created and led by participants based on certain elements of Global Learning that they wanted to explore further through critical conversation.

Ms. Schonour participated in the “un-conference” about Global Learning in Elementary Schools. The discussion group consisted of teachers and administrators who were looking to share ideas about what global learning looks like for younger students.  Success stories as well as ideas that did not work were shared. One of the most helpful ideas that stemmed from the conversation was that each school is different and needs to define global learning in a way that complements their mission.

Ms. Lapinski attended one of the “twin workshop” sessions focused on authentic assessment. Defined by Jon Mueller, authentic assessment is “a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.” Educators from around the country shared many examples of how assessment methods could be effectively designed to put students in charge of their learning and bring them more fully into their education journey. Diana Gross, Senior Instructional Facilitator for Johns Hopkins and National Geographic Traveler of the Year 2012, guided participants through a multi-step collaborative process to design authentic assessment tasks that had meaning for their schools. It was very interesting to listen to what other schools are doing as well as share examples from the Baldwin School.

Ms. Schonour joined the other” twin workshop,” which explored effective use of Project-Based Learning (PBL), with guest speaker Jennifer D. Klein from the World Leadership School.  Ms. Klein discussed various strategies, pedagogies, tools and resources for infusing project-based learning into academic units in a way that engages students in inquiry and action. She created an open dialogue for teachers and administrators to discuss the difference between projects, which many teachers already do, and project based-learning which integrates deep foundations of academic content.

Inherent in any authentic global learning program is the aspect of travel. Presenters from the World Leadership School led an informative session to guide schools to start and sustain discussion and planning around risk management. Effective strategies for administrators, trip leaders, students and parents were shared.

The weekend experience was a meaningful professional development opportunity that allowed Ms. Schonour and Ms. Lapinski to network, learn and share approaches for teaching global competencies in an increasingly global world. As a result, the pair quickly recognized that the Baldwin School’s Global Initiatives’ approach is positioned well to continue to challenge its students to look beyond what they know and understand, to appreciate differences and to embrace their responsibility to be active, thoughtful, empathetic global citizens.  Baldwin’s mission reinforces this message and its embedded programming ensures that the global experience is much more than just checking off a box on a list.

Reed Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching

Written by Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Laura Blankenship

Grade 3 Teacher Kathy Gates explores Sedona
Grade 3 Teacher Kathy Gates explored Sedona in August 2016

Baldwin provides a wide range of support for faculty professional development, from providing funding for a single-day workshop to an extended trip. We reserve a few special awards that are more substantial and allow our faculty to immerse themselves more fully in professional development. The Reed Fellowship is an award that provides faculty with the opportunity to dig in a little deeper in their chosen field.

The Reed Fellowship is given to a faculty member who is nominated by his or her peers and is recognized for his or her excellence in teaching. He or she receives a stipend to go toward something that will benefit the enrichment of the teacher’s classroom experience. In the 2014-15 school year, Christie Reed, chair of the Science Department, was selected for the award and in the 2015-16 school year, Kathy Gates, 3rd grade teacher, was selected. Both used the funds from the Reed Fellowship to travel this past summer and explore opportunities to bring into their teaching.

Christie traveled to New Hampshire to spend a week at the Biology Institute at Exeter. She took a long course on teaching science using Harkness, and while she questioned how this could be done with such a content-laden subject, she is now a total believer in using the Harkness method. While she may not completely switch everything, there are many ways she has reorganized things to implement much of what she learned and use some of the methods.

Additionally, she had some short courses on topics such as using Vernier probeware in new ways and utilizing Google goggles for teaching purposes. She took field trips to Appledore Island, an undergraduate research facility on an island that is part of the Isle of Shoals, where they learned about the ecosystem there, including the nesting habits of several species of birds.

They visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History and had a behind the scenes tour, along with presentations of some PhD thesis work. They went tidal pooling to collect invertebrates for the tidal table, and they did lots of bird watching. Perhaps the most interesting field trip included an unexpected washed up Humpback whale on the coast of New Hampshire. The whale was enormous, very close to shore and no one was sure why or how it died. It was a full week with little sleep, a lot of collaboration, and a huge amount of professional development in terms of new ideas for how to teach biology.

Kathy Gates travelled to Boston University and attended the 2016 Poetry Institute for K-12 Educators.

Led by Boston University professor Robert Pinsky, current United States Poet Laureate, the Poetry Institute provided educators with a professional development experience based on the principles of the Favorite Poem Project. In conception, the project, with its videos at favoritepoem.org and popular anthologies, celebrates and documents poetry’s place in American culture. The Institute is devoted to improving poetry’s place in American classrooms. Teachers worked in groups throughout the week to develop lessons inspired by Favorite Poem Project materials and by the presenters, award-winning American poets: Maggie Dietz, Mark Doty, David Ferry, Louise Glück, Major Jackson, Gail Mazur, Eric McHenry, Heather McHugh, Carl Phillips and Rosanna Warren.” Learn more about the Favorite Poem Project: The Summer Poetry Institute.

In addition to her trip to Boston, Kathy recognized that this year, 2016, celebrates the National Parks’ Centennial. So, she chose to visit Arizona and explore National Parks in that area such as The Grand Canyon and The Petrified Forest, just to name a few. As a result of this amazing experience, she plans to include a research project about US National Parks in the third grade States unit this year. She also hopes to be able to connect her 3rd graders to the 9th graders through this unit as the 9th graders are traveling to The Grand Canyon in November.

These two faculty members are just two examples of our amazing team of teachers who go above and beyond for our students every day and who take time out of their busy lives to enrich themselves in ways that will benefit their curriculum and teaching. At Baldwin, our passion for learning isn’t restricted to our students. Our faculty, too, continually demonstrate their own passion for learning through experiences like these, and that passion enriches our whole community.

What We Did Over the Summer

Written by Dr. Laura Blankenship, Dean of Academic Affairs

Myriam Harvey lead a 9-day trip to Peru for Upper School Spanish classes in June.

When I was in school, we often had to write a “What I Did Over the Summer” essay during the first few days of school. I’m sure many of us did, and I’m sure many of us filled the page with descriptions of leisurely activities like swimming, hiking, or just watching tv. While faculty do have the opportunity to get in those leisurely activities, many are just as likely to have spent some portion of their summer participating in workshops or classes, attending conferences, reading new materials for their courses, or redesigning their curriculum. What follows are some of the highlights of the activities our faculty participated in that ultimately create a better educational experience for our students.

Kathy Gates (3rd grade) and Christie Reed (Science) both traveled and did work under the Reed Fellowship. Christie received the fellowship for the 14-15 school year and Kathy received it for the 15-16 school year. Kathy spent time traveling to National Parks while Christie continued her work at the Biology Institute at Exeter. There will be a more extensive overview of their work coming soon.

Athena Anthopoulos (4th grade) spent three weeks in Greece visiting her family and spending time with her two daughters. In addition to some rest and relaxation, Athena also visited museums and historic sites. She also observed and learned from the austerity measures that the Greek population finds themselves under. She says she is already making changes at home to curb the wasteful use of valuable resources and plans to bring some of those ideas into her classroom.

Stephanie Greer (LS DREAM Lab coordinator) was very busy this summer. First, she went to Constructing Modern Knowledge, where she spent the week prototyping, programming, networking, attending lectures and fully immersing herself as a learner. One of the highlights of the workshop was when she had dinner with Carla Rinaldi (of the Reggio Schools in Italy). It was a very special night, she says, as she is a fan of both Carla and the Reggio approach to learning on which she had spoken. She also attended a conference on the Question Formulation Technique, a process she’ll be sharing with the rest of the Lower School faculty and she visited a company that makes a machine that will allow us to upcycle 3D filament as part of her plans to make her classes more environmentally friendly.

Monica Henkel and Carol Beaverson (Kindergarten) attended a class at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Unlocking Creativity. They learned about fostering creativity in students and incorporating playful learning into their classes. They heard from world-class educators and participated in hands-on activities such as creating a Rube Goldberg Machine that encourages creative problem solving. They took away several important messages. From Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific Director of the Imagination Institute at University of Pennsylvania, they were encouraged to rethink the definition of educational success and the ways in which education might stifle creativity. And from Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Temple University Professor of Psychology, they learned to appreciate the importance of play in the learning process, especially when it comes to interpersonal and collaborative skills.

Anne-Mette Hansell (5th grade) and Kathy Gates (3rd grade) attended a workshop on Google Apps for Education at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. The workshop focused on educational strategies, identified differentiated strategies within Google’s suite of tools and gave the participants an opportunity to experience Google Classroom from a student’s perspective. For more about Google Apps, check out this video.

Lynn Cohen, Christy Renninger, Barb Cass, and Jen Lee (Middle School Math) all worked together to develop curriculum for the new math sequence in Middle School. They created more hands-on activities and plan to leverage tools such as Khan Academy in order to further support student learning and to provide opportunities for review and challenge as needed. Lynn Cohen worked on strategies to support the MS teachers within the classroom, further assisting in differentiation for students. Christy Renninger also spent a good portion of her time developing the new Micro and Macro Economics classes, which she is very much looking forward to teaching.

As part of researching new approaches to the math curriculum, Jen Lee attended the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of Mathematics where she learned about some new techniques for teaching math, both hands on and online. She learned about foldable notes, an interactive physical method for taking and interacting with notes. She also discovered that Rubik’s Cube has a lending program and will be borrowing 30 Rubik’s Cubes to use with her students.

Matthew Bunn used his grant money to purchase some new books and spent time developing the new 8th grade History course. Thanks to Baldwin’s support, he was able to complete the curriculum for all seven of his units!

Kristen Brown (Art), Gabbie Alvarez-Spychalski (Spanish), Cindy Lapinski (MS Director), and Katie Burke (Computer Science) went to the MCRC session with Rosetta Lee and Alexandra Scott. Kristen had seen Rosetta Lee before, but appreciate hearing some of the same topics again. And she was impressed with Alexandra Scott’s discussion of supporting transgender students.

Lauren Friedman-Way (Library) attended Columbia Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project where she learned specific strategies for teaching Reading and Writing. Her big take-home was following: “[E]very student is capable of greatness, but we have to measure that greatness by the abilities of the individual student; that every child works harder when praised for what they did right instead of scolded for what they did wrong; that we have to manage our expectations of our students, while still keeping them high – you have to go into your class assuming that all of your students will rise to your expectations, instead of going in assuming that they will probably fail; and that being a student is hard!”

Aileen McCulloch (Drama) participated in an online course, called Untangled – Educating Adolescent Girls led by Lisa Damour, the author of the book Untangled. She found it tremendously enlightening and recommends the book itself to parents and teachers. She especially learned a lot about the ways middle school girls interact with each other and their parents and how we tend to make some of the changes girls naturally go through into a negative, when we don’t do the same for boys. I highly recommend talking to Aileen about her experience and to look for more details coming out on the blog soon!

Caedmon Haas (Latin) attended Rusticatio Virginiana, a one-week program in which participants pledge to speak, read, and write entirely in Latin for the duration of their stay. She improved her oral proficiency in the language and gained many strategies for using “active” (i.e., spoken and heard) Latin to generate higher levels of student engagement and achievement. One of the official “work” sessions each day had participants reading texts from 100 BCE to 1800 CE (all about Africa; that was this year’s theme), and she came away with a renewed sense of Latin’s importance to cultural continuity in the West.

Vicky Gold (Art) attended a class on making different kinds of books. The class was intense, 9 hours each day. She made 7 different types of folded books, and 3 bound books, a Mongolian Board Book, a Pyramid Book and an Accordion Book. She learned about various inks and techniques to make decorative papers. She cut stencils, made mono prints and layered images on top of the decorative papers. She learned about many different kinds of paste, inks and tools. Every day was a completely new experience. She looks forward to sharing what she learned with her students.

Katie Burke (Computer Science) participated in an online class called Introduction to Independent Schools. New to independent schools, Katie thought it would be important to find out more about the culture and expectations found in independent school classrooms.

With his grant money, Fred Kountz (History) purchased books for his already extensive collection and traveled to the Holocaust museum in D.C. in preparation for his elective on the Holocaust. He hopes to have students visit the museum and conduct research in the library.

Caitlin McLane (History) spent her summer working on curriculum for the new 9th grade Modern World History course. She worked with fellow 9th grade History teachers Ingrid Herrera and Matthew Bunn to lay out the units, transfer the resources from the current 10th grade Modern World History course, and create new, developmentally appropriate assignments and assessments for 9th graders. Ingrid and Caitlin also spent time discussing essential study skills and discipline-specific history skills that they want their new 9th grade course to teach. Along with her work on the 9th grade course, Caitlin spent time revising and building out my elective on Modern East Asian History and attending two professional development conferences: Facing History and Ourselves seminar “The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy” in Brookline, MA and Gilder Lehrman’s seminar on World War I in New York City.

Gretchen Boger (History) traveled to France and Switzerland where she visited the sites related to John Calvin and the Protestant Reformation. She was able to see the churches Calvin established for early Protestants and the Huguenots, and a museum documenting much of the Reformation’s Geneva-specific history. In Paris, Gretchen particularly valued an exhibit at the Shoah Memorial Museum about women of the French Resistance. Finally, she spent the third leg of her trip in Normandy, visiting the D-Day beaches, as well as Impressionist sites and the ancient abbey of Mont St. Michel, where she was able to witness Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France.

Josiane Mariette (French) attended the Oxbridge program’s seminar in Paris where she met other French teachers and spent time discussing curriculum and strategies for teaching French. Josiane noted that the teachers were from a wide variety of backgrounds, so she got to hear many different points of view about the teaching of the French language.

Myriam Harvey (Spanish) used the Blair D. Stambaugh Award for Student and Faculty Enrichment grant to lead a 9-day trip to Peru for Upper School Spanish classes in June. The journey began in Peru’s capital city of Lima.There the students spent 2 days learning about the fusion of several ancient civilizations with the Spanish conquest and the city’s evolution into its current contemporary state. Then they flew to Cuzco where the students spent 3 days learning about the Incan Empire. In Cuzco, they explored the ruins of Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman before traveling by train to Machu Picchu. The journey ended in Puno, where they took a boat ride on Lake Titicaca and visited the Taquile and Uros islands. The students spent 3 days visiting indigenous communities living on the floating islands. Most important, the students and Myriam experienced first-hand the importance of learning language and history outside of the classroom.

Adrian Cox (Athletics) directed the Baldwin Summer Select soccer program for U10 and 11 girls. The program ran for five weeks in June and July on Lower Field and attracted over 35 players from the area. The teams trained two evenings per week and played in two tournaments in Lancaster, PA and Fort Dix, NJ. Baldwin varsity soccer players Lauren Bracken ’19 and Celia Page ’19 were assistant coaches in the inaugural program. Megan Adelman’ 23, Violet Paiva ’23 and Gabrielle Reiser ’24 participated in the program and did a fantastic job. The program was a big success and in 2017 there will be teams offered in the U9-13 age groups.

Mira Ramchandani (Jewelry) enrolled in a stone setting class. It was a one-on-one hands-on workshop that focused on four different types of stone settings.  Settings included a pre-made tube setting, claw settings and a four-pronged setting to a rectangular faceted stone. The class was one of the more advanced and fun classes that she has taken in a long time.  She plans to show the girls how to set faceted stones and inspire them to be creative not only in working with metals but in stone setting as well.

Digital Respect, Education, and Safety in the Lower School

Emily Woodward is our Lower School Library Media Specialist
Emily Woodward is our Lower School Library Media Specialist

Young children are taught to look both ways before crossing the street, and teens are given driving lessons before getting behind the wheel of a car. We love our children and want to keep them safe. In this time of emerging technology, this includes instruction on how to navigate an increasingly complex online world.

A portion of the Library/Technology curriculum in the Lower School is focused on the development of “digital citizenship.” According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), this term encompasses respect, education, and protection (safety) around devices and while online. In the Lower School here at Baldwin we teach students from PreK – Grade 5 how to interact with technology, as well as with other people while online. With a solid understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen, our girls are better equipped to manage the information and choices that they will encounter online.

For our youngest students in PreK and Kindergarten, this starts with learning how to care for technology and how to use iPads responsibly. They interact with apps and manipulate different types of media in a safe and controlled environment. As their horizons begin to expand, students in Grades 1-2 are taught strategies for navigating the Internet safely, including how to identify and access safe websites, what to do if something unexpected happens, and why we need to protect our private information. They also visit the Library webpage and are introduced to a social media aspect of the Library catalog. Here in a safe, private environment students learn that our Baldwin Core Values also apply online as well.

This focus continues in Grade 3, where the primary message is that being responsible is important online, just like at home or school. The term “cyberbully” is introduced and we discuss how we need not only to be kind to others, but also to speak up if we observe any negative behavior. In Grade 4, one area of concentration is how to take advantage of the many resources available online and includes copyright and ownership of digital content. Here students learn how to appropriately credit creators of images and other materials.

By the time they reach Grade 5, students are able to incorporate each of these previously taught skills and ideas and to think more deeply about their role as digital citizens. They create a “Digital Citizen’s Pledge” to display in the Lower School hallway, detailing appropriate behaviors online. We also discuss our digital footprints and the fact that once something goes online other people can see it and send it out. In preparation for their future studies, we review how to tell whether or not a website is authoritative and stage a mock trial to determine whether the information provided on a website is of sufficiently good quality.

As a community member of Baldwin, you might be asking yourself how you can find out more information about this topic. Two resources that I’ve found particularly helpful are:

  • Common Sense Media , which offers digital advice as well as book and movie reviews, and
  • ISTE, which provides information and strategies for learning more about technology and online tools.

In closing I would like to quote from the article “Essential Elements of Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship is a complex topic with many facets. We need to make sure we help students understand the issues that might occur online while also stressing the positive impact of technology. As many educators know, most students want to do the right thing — and will, if they know what that is. Let’s help them do great things with technology while avoiding the pitfalls.  

Creating the Foundation

Dr. Laura Blankenship is the Interim Dean of Academic Affairs and Computer Science Chair.

Laura BlankenshipThe saying goes that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten.  Although the saying references social skills like sharing, it’s also true that there is a lot of learning that happens in those pre-kindergarten and kindergarten years.  I had the pleasure of visiting our Early Childhood Center a couple of weeks ago and spent some time in the Pre-K and K classes.  It’s amazing all the material these girls are being exposed to in such a short amount of time.  Ms. Henkel, Ms. Beaverson, Ms. McCloskey, and Ms. Rohricht pack a lot into every minute while still keeping the lessons fun.

In Kindergarten, the day often begins with writing or reading words that begin with certain letters.  I was there during “O” and “C” week, so the girls were drawing pictures of words that start with O and C and writing the words to go with them.  There were cats and candy and oranges and octopuses.  These letters and words are reinforced during morning announcements where students read from the SmartBoard and the teachers ask them to find the words that start with C or O.  The girls noticed Christopher Columbus right away!

While they’re reading those words, the girls also learn something about history and math.  They talk about who Christopher Columbus was and how many ships he had, and they go to the map and talk about the continents and countries.  All that in the span of about twenty minutes.  There are songs and pictures that help them along the way, so they’re always having fun.

On another day, I visited just before a field trip, so we learned a little about trees and what they’re made of and how they grow.  So, in addition to reading and writing, the girls are learning a little science, and then they got to visit an arboretum to see that science in person.  

In Pre-K, I walked in while they were figuring out what day of the week and month it was and how many days have passed so far.  They had to read the days and month, and had to do some counting to figure it all out!  Then the girls learned about different sizes and different words to use to describe those sizes: small, medium, and large.  The had little bears of different sizes that they used to figure out what word went with what size.  

These basic skills are ones that we adults and many of our older students take for granted, but they provide the foundation for everything that comes next.  And while they’re acquiring those skills, the teachers are making sure they’re engaged and excited, instilling a love of learning that will carry them through their years at Baldwin.  The girls are clearly proud of what they’re learning and even the four-year-olds already show the traits of a Baldwin girl: smart, confident, and ready to take on challenges.

Design Thinking: Learning, Creating and Being Through Empathy

Written by Lower School Teachers Anne-Mette Hansell and Monica Henkel

design thinking 2This summer we attended a four-day Design Thinking course offered through the Hirtle Summer Program for Innovative Schools.

It was an enriching four days spent with DEEP Design Thinking trainers from the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School/Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation in Atlanta, GA, and 23 teachers from local independent schools.

Throughout the course, we were given the opportunity to experience Design Thinking in much the same way that our Baldwin students do. Wearing “student hats,”  we were asked to discover, empathize, experiment and solve problems well out of our comfort zones. The latter are the fundamental principles of Design Thinking.

To discover: One of the most important and time consuming steps in the Design Thinking process is discovery. True discovery requires observation, curiosity and questioning. What, where, who and how? What if? How might we? Is there a way?  

To practice our observation skills, we took a field trip to the Please Touch Museum.

We were asked to observe children interacting with the displays and think critically about how things were arranged within the museum space. Were children drawn to certain areas and not others? Were they engaged and was their natural sense of curiosity piqued? Given that a museum has a limited amount of space, did the curators plan wisely? And finally, how could we transfer our discoveries and observations to our schools and make our own learning spaces even more engaging?

Back on campus, we attended “Circuit School.” Collaborative teams of four participants were invited to tinker with various materials including LED lights, batteries and copper. The instructors did not teach us about electricity. Instead, we made discoveries on our own. Through trial and error and many ah-ha moments, we were able to light the lights. With this new knowledge in hand, each participant created a model with at least two working lights. After putting our models side by side, we stepped back to share our discoveries and frustrations, and marveled at what we had created together.

To empathize: Empathy is another important step in the Design Thinking process. To produce a product, we must have a clear understanding of the user’s needs. We become emotionally invested in meeting the needs of our users once we fully understand their needs.

During the course we were given a very interesting way to practice our empathy skills. On day three, we were invited to meet with elementary school students and ask them what makes them most excited and passionate about learning. Students shared that they feel most engaged when they are given choices in the learning process and when they are able to move about their learning spaces. Hands-on learning and experimentation is key.

To experiment: The following day, we took what we learned from the elementary school students and brainstormed how we might invigorate our own learning spaces and teaching practices. Our instructors encouraged us to think big and put any/all ideas on the table. We experimented with various materials including wood, cardboard, fabric, paper, etc. and then created prototypes.    

To produce: The prototypes came in all shapes and sizes. Examples include a multi-use “creation station,” learning spaces with a variety of seating and standing options and a learning space with flexible partitions. The elementary school students were then invited to try out our prototypes and give us feedback. The students were excited about what they saw. They touched, explored and were eager to offer their suggestions for changes.  

Throughout this course we learned new and innovative strategies to create greater student involvement in the learning process. We have ideas about how to incorporate elements of Design Thinking into our classrooms and are eager to begin!