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Reading Joy

Our girls need few reminders about the joys of reading. Many come to school with a book in their hand. Others walk from lunch to recess to class holding a coveted novel. Literature classes, a favorite for many of the girls, provide windows into unknown worlds, and few complain that nightly homework includes fifteen minutes of reading. Even with this said, we have tried to ramp up the enthusiasm for reading this month with several reading “events”. Bev Edwards in the library has started her lunchtime book clubs. One recent school day fourth grade girls gathered to discuss, Love that Dog by Sharon Creech. They talked about the characters and plot while enjoying theme-based treats! Other grades are soon to follow. What a treat to sit in the library on a cold winter afternoon talking about books with classmates.

This week our students in both Preschool and Lower School are invited to share the love of reading together in our first “Snuggle Up and Read Night”. Children and their parents will share stories by the “fireplace” and enjoy some lite fare for dinner. We chose the classic novel, Charlotte’s Web, for our first and second grade to discuss and the new, but soon to become a classic, Wish, for our third through fifth grade students. We will use the theme of “kindness” as a basis for talking points. It will provide a connection to our character education program for families. Being kind to each other is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can instill in our young students. What better way to reinforce this lesson than through the magic of books.

Books with themes of social justice are being collected this month in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. On February 1ststudents in all grades will gather in the gym with students of Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School to read, discuss, and create bookplates so that the 1000+ books can be donated to Baltimore’s Head Start program. Another reminder that books can create connections and provide bridges between members of the community. It promises to become a yearly event.

We take the teaching of reading seriously here in our lower school. Nowhere is this more evident than in our kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Girls are exposed to letter-sound correlations and, once mastered, they learn to blend these sounds into words. It is rewarding work and creates strong readers. I recently discovered an article that does an excellent job describing the process and have linked it below. The English language is complex and often defies logic; our young readers are to be commended for making such steady progress despite the obstacles!  One strategy teachers use is to pair younger and older readers together. This is made so easy since we are all under one roof! Upper school students charmed all of our classrooms by reading the story of Beauty and the Beast to the girls prior to the musical performance this fall. Our kindergarten girls have loved sharing activities that involve reading with our fifth grade girls, and our second grade enjoyed reading picture books to our toddlers one recent afternoon. The article linked below describes the benefits of this buddy reading. Enjoy.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/11/01/you-need-r-ee-d-read

 

Reading with a Buddy

In the Lower School, we strive to always balance our curriculum so that the girls are exposed to appropriate challenges, cover necessary content to build solid foundations, and gain skills that can be applied across disciplines. Reading is at the heart of much of what we do each day. Nurturing a love of literature, teaching language fundamentals in meaningful ways, and celebrating reading progress in all subject areas remain objectives for our students. Thank you for all you do at home to support your budding readers. They will reap the benefits throughout their lives.

 

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What have you learned about the letter R and the sound it represents? What does addition and subtraction mean?
  • If you are in First Grade- What type of background did you give to your self-portrait in art class? What did your letter from the “Roses” say?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What part do you have in your Egyptian play?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What has been your favorite part of the novel The Fantastic Mr. Fox? What did you love at the BMA? What types of paintings were in the Cone Collection?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What did you contribute to the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day morning meeting assembly?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What will the subject of your letter to a State Representative be? What do you hope to accomplish with your letter? What did you contribute to the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day morning meeting assembly?
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Resolutions for the New Year

This week I was able to talk with the girls during Morning Meeting about how schools really have two “new years”. I asked what this meant, and immediately the girls’ hands went up. One young student expressed that entering a new grade was like entering a new year. We are lucky in this way- we get to start a new calendar year in January complete with reflections of the year gone by and predictions for the year to come, and we start a school year in September excited by the hopes and possibilities ahead.

From an early age, children understand that they can set a goal, even as simple as climbing to the highest part of a playground ladder. This feeling of accomplishment leads to more goal setting and risk taking which prepares them for life challenges. During our gathering the girls and I  talked about the similarity between the words resolution and goals. They were familiar with the tradition of making resolutions to start a “new year”, as many had already made academic goals for themselves in their classrooms. I asked them to consider making one more goal to start the year 2019- always be kind. We read a lovely story to illustrate the point, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. If every girl was able to prioritize kindness each and every day, imagine what a wonderful place this would be for all. Even adults often struggle to meet this goal- we’ll see if the younger members of our community can take this to heart and set an example for all.

In the end, the most successful goals originate with the child. According to Jessica Lahey, in her book The Gift of Failure, “Self-imposed goals are about the safest place for a kid to fail. I f kids make up their own goals, on their own timeline, according to their criteria, then failure is not a crushing defeat. Goals can be amended, changed according to circumstances, and even postponed to maybe next week. For kids who are particularly afraid and anxious about failing, goals offer a private proving ground, as safe way to take risks, fail, and try again.” She says that, “for a goal to work, the child has to own it.”

In conclusion, I hope that whatever your hopes, goals, or resolutions for 2019 may be, you are able to find success and much happiness!

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • If you are in Kindergarten- What did you learn about the letter “G” this week? What did Mrs. B do over her winter break that was exciting? What activity did you enjoy with fifth grade buddies over break?
  • If you are in First Grade- How do you feel about your performance coming up? How are the “Roses” to dance with? Is your costume colorful and fun to move around the stage in?

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  • If you are in Second Grade- What are you looking forward to seeing at the Walters Art Museum this week related to Egyptian Art?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What are you looking forward to seeing at the Baltimore Museum of Art the week after next? Who is Matisse? What have you learned about the work of Roald Dahl? Do you have a favorite book? What did you learn from Ms. Greene’s mother about writing her book about Maryland?

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  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What are some reasons that people moved Westward? Who were Lewis and Clark?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What will the subject of your letter to a State Representative be? What do you hope to accomplish with your letter?
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Gratitude Lessons

When Rachel Simmons came to speak to us last month, she finished her discussion with a nod to the importance of gratitude. She placed new emphasis on the way feeling gratitude can have a positive impact on one’s health and wellness. The girls who heard her speak were hanging on every word. Building on this message, every day at lunch I have been encouraging gratitude for the meal and the opportunity to enjoy time together. Teachers remind the girls what it means to be thankful during Morning Meetings, and recently our fifth-grade girls wrote what they are thankful for on paper chains. See the photo below. Some of their sentiments included gratitude for family, friends, and pets, however many rings spoke about thankfulness for a warm home, religion, and education.

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The month of November brings thoughts of gratefulness each year. Students and faculty alike have now settled into the routines of the school year and can catch their breath and enjoy being together. At the same time, we begin to realize that the calendar pages get turned way too quickly, days often fly by, and if we stop to enjoy each moment, we can slow the process down. Our Morning Meetings this year have given us a place of quiet reflection. We come together each day and through story, or music, or shared conversation, we have a chance to think about what is important. Recently, the third-grade girls completed a grateful-for-each-other paper during their Morning Meeting. They were given a classmate and anonymously wrote kind words and thoughts. The papers were shared and treasured. Stopping to take a moment to remember the qualities of each other provided a feel-good experience for all.

Several years ago, I attended an education conference in Vancouver. One of the speakers was Dr. Shimi Kang who had recently published a book about parenting and raising happy, healthy and self-motivated children, titled The Dolphin Parent. I highly recommend this book for your parent library. There are great insights in the book and clinical research to support ideas. One suggestion that impressed me was to encourage your child to keep a “gratitude journal”. She mentions that it can help improve health and happiness while “guiding your child towards valuing community and contribution.” Dr. Kang feels that building a habit of appreciation for what you receive and give to the greater community promotes a strong, positive sense of self. Timemagazine reported on the value of gratitude and concluded, “People who describe themselves as feeling grateful, tend to have higher vitality and more optimism, suffer less stress, and experience few episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole.” I have included an article from this time last year that outlines ideas about encouraging gratitude and the joys of journaling or letter writing as a vehicle for expression. Enjoy.

 

Encouraging Students to Feel Gratitude

 

I will start this next work week feeling grateful for the wonderful school community that affords me the opportunity to continue this dialogue about the changing role of education in our lives.

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekly conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this week.

  • What was the message from this week’s Morning Meeting with Mrs. Teeling? What teacher did she express gratitude for? What did Mrs. McAslan discuss about artwork on display? Is art one of your favorite subjects? What artwork did Abigail and Laney have featured in the Walters Art Gallery show?

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  • If you are in Kindergarten- What did your drawing look like for the Winter Concert Program? Who had their work selected?

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  • If you are in First Grade-How are your many dance rehearsals coming along? What have you learned about the animals of Mexico?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What have you learned about the Ancient Egyptians? How awesome was the homemade sweet potato pie that you made from your garden potatoes?
  • If you are in Third Grade- How are you doing with Typing Club? What are “home keys”? What did you plan for your moonscape base as part of the Lego League Challenge?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- How are the routines coming along for the tap dance you will perform at the Winter Concert?

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  • If you are in Fifth Grade- Did you enjoy creating a miniature version of the Macy’s Day Parade? Whose design did you feel worked the best? How hard or easy was the Ollie to control as a balloon operating machine? What do you mean by “personal space” after the lesson you had with Ms. Best?IMG_6978.JPG
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Assessment, Grades, and Conferences

By now all parents should have received their daughter’s report on effort and learning, otherwise known as the report card. This end-of-quarter assessment gives students and parents a quick glimpse of the year’s progress. The first quarter’s report card details curriculum goals for the year ahead whereas the next three quarters will outline how those goals are being met and whether new objectives are needed.

Educators have a love-hate relationship with the numbers, letters, and percentages that make up “grades”. Often feedback seems outdated by the time the report card is distributed. A student may have progressed beyond that 2 or has had a surge of newfound responsibility that could raise the number report for work habits on the checklists. However, most agree that it is helpful for teachers to communicate marks that clearly indicate either progress or room for growth at designated times during the year. This can inspire motivation or at least conversation.

One downside to grades as part of the feedback process is that it can reward product over process. Often grades are based on a calculate average of tests, quizzes, and projects. The product at the end of a unit was assessed and feedback along the way may have been minimal. A child can see themselves as a poor performer in a subject area and give up rather than see this more positively on a continuum of learning that requires constant effort. No matter how much we discourage this fixed mindset thinking, students often compare grades and rank themselves against their peers. Discuss with your child how important it is to always try your best and failure or setbacks are an important part of the learning process. Learning can look different for each individual and may not always mirror the progress of friends or classmates. At Roland Park Country School, we are looking at ways to reward effort, encourage process over product, and assess girls in new, more comprehensive ways. Hopefully we will be able to encourage growth mindset for our girls in all subject areas. Please enjoy the article below about this topic for parents.

Parent Article – includes a section about Children and Learning

An Interesting Read about New Ways of Assessment on the Horizon

This past week parents were invited to school for parent-teacher conferences. It was wonderful to see so many parents coming and going.  During this first conference, we learned about how your daughters see school, see friendships, and see themselves as students. Our hope as teachers is that when parents come to school in early November, we are able to establish a relationship that lasts throughout the school year. “Knowing” your children requires “knowing” you as well. Hopefully, the stage is set for a successful school year!

 

A parent requested a meeting the other week just to talk about some questions she had about school procedures. It was so nice to be able to hear her perspective on new things we were trying out and hear first-hand how the school experience was working, or not working, for her daughter. It was a dialogue we appreciate and encourage between parents and administration. As I talk with parents, I am reminded that we are all working for the same important goals- knowing our children and helping them have the most meaningful school experience possible.

I hope that my communication with you each week encourages “talking points” to inspire conversation with your daughter or daughters. Here are some “talking points” based on recent school events.

  • If your are in Kindergarten- What sound does the letter “i” make? How did you recreate your igloo picture?
  • If you are in First Grade- What continents and oceans can you identify?
  • If you are in Second Grade-
  • If you are in Third Grade- Did you learn new things about celebrations around the world from your classmates during their presentation?

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  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What  animal did you draw at the SPCA on your field trip recently?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What questions did you think of to ask the visitors to next week’s Morning Meeting?
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Teaching Our Young Girls Lessons with Rachel Simmons

 

Anticipating the arrival of Rachel Simmons on Roland Park Country School’s campus this week had me reflecting about the ways lessons from her books translate to our youngest girls and their parents. This summer the lower school faculty read Odd Girl Out, The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons. At the time, I found the book a wonderful introduction to the many issues young girls face in our society. However, I felt that it specifically addressed girls in the middle to upper school age bracket rather than our lower school demographic. As I went back through the many dog-eared pages from the summer, I found myself seeing more parallels to our girls who are sometimes struggling with friendship and confidence issues all be it on a smaller scale. It appears that it is never too early to talk about friends vs frenemies (or relational aggression), bullying, self-image, and the misuse of social media. The final chapter of the book is devoted to the “road ahead for educators and administrators.”  Rachel points out that, “The lessons must begin early and continue year after year.” This is why we had this phenomenal author come to speak to the entire community and specifically to our girls in grades four and five. Her words were inspired and perfectly targeted.

To set the stage for Ms. Simmons, I met with our fourth and fifth grade girls during Morning Meeting to get them thinking about friendships. This was to be the subject of the afternoon talk, and I wanted the girls to feel comfortable analyzing the challenges that come with making and keeping friends. Their responses to my sentence starters, “A good friend is….,” and, “You know someone isn’t a good friend when…..” were heartfelt.  There were many shaking of heads in agreement with everyone’s answers. Changes in friendships, which often happens at this age, were very much on their minds. I read from a book that would make a great holiday gift for your girls this season, The Confidence Code for Girls, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. It is written specifically for girls and will give parents helpful insights into what might be holding your daughter back from finding her own confidence code. See an illustration below of three books that I find so useful in understanding young girls and their complex relationships.

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Great Reads for Parents of Young Girls

 

Rachel made sure the girls were comfortable and engaged from the minute she stepped into the room. She had a wonderful sense of humor that was very relatable for them. With a photo of herself as a child surrounded by friends, she discussed the down and dirty of friendships. Girls can be your BFF one day and the bully going against you the next. She talked about the importance of allowing space to grow and explore other friends or activities, why it is better to talk about feelings- no more silent treatment, and the need to sometimes forgive. Rachel encouraged them to communicate what things are “off limits” to joke about and to listen to the vulnerabilities of others. The girls cheered and hurried over to shake her hand at the conclusion of the talk. It was clear to the adults in the room that these conversations need to continue, and we were grateful to this talented young woman for showing us how to get started!

Below is a link to an article written specifically for parents of young girls. Enjoy and find many more links to her website at the top of the article.

Rachel Simmons Addresses Parents of Young Girls

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • What was the message from this week’s Lunch Reading with Mrs. Teeing? Do you enjoy the poetry or stories more? Which group sang Halloween songs?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- Did you enjoy the many project that went along with learning the letter H- crazy hats in the classroom, and lots of hair discussions??
  • If you are in First Grade- How prepared were you for the visitors that spend the day learning about RPCS this Tuesday?

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  • If you are in Second Grade- What animals did you see at Roger’s Farm? What was the corn maize like to run through?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What types of foods did you have at your Three Sisters Garden feast on Friday? Was there a favorite? Have you ever made popcorn that way?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What did you learn from the information gathered by your grade’s rocket launch?

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  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What were the highlights of the field trip to Genesee Valley? How much money did you raise for Breast Cancer research during Think Pink Day?
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The Edge of Challenge

Schools today are looking at many aspects of education differently. One reason is that the world is changing at a rapid pace and information may be obtained through a variety of mediums. As a teaching institution, Roland Park Country School is looking closely at how children are motivated to learn, how they use metacognitive skills to know what they learn and what they need to learn, and how to measure learning to see if mastery is achieved. To spur motivation, students are encouraged to explore topics that interest them and are given tasks that are just on the edge of their competency. (I will talk about this idea further below.) To encourage use of the metacognitive side of the brain, students are asked to reflect on their learning experience, given methods that allow them to “show what they know,” and taught questioning techniques which give voice to the query, “Where am I going, and what do I need to know to get there?” To measure if mastery of a topic, subject, or skill has been attained, assessments need to look very different today. Creating assessments that align with new ways of teaching is a hot topic in schools. Project based units and group led explorations are not easily assessed with traditional bubble-in-the-answer type tests. Portfolios, formative or ongoing assessments, and performances are taking their place. Hooray! Schools are often piloting new ideas in order to keep up with progress. See the article about “progress culture” below. I read this article, and many others I will share with you over the year, while exploring K-12 learning goals for Gilman School.

https://jrosspeters.com/2012/04/05/creating-a-progress-culture-one-pilot-at-a-time/

Striking that balance between traditional ways of learning that have taken generations to refine and piloting new methods of learning is tricky in independent schools like RPCS and Gilman. Master teachers who have honed their craft must remain open to new ideas presented by a younger audience who do not know a world without technology and global connectedness.

This alone could be the subject of a blog post. However, as the title suggests, the discussion is about challenge. In my work at Gilman, we touched on the idea of the edge of competence. This is that “bar,” as it was once known, where knowledge and mastery meet unknown, new horizons.  This is sometimes defined as “Low Floor- High Ceiling” This edge,  or ceiling,  presents a world of new challenges and is usually pushed outwards after a repeated series of trial and error. I think sometimes of a video game that teases the learner with many levels and lets the player try over and over again until they make it to the next level only to introduce new challenges on the edge that needs to be pushed through. Children respond well to this type of learning. The teacher masterfully creates an edge of challenge just within reach and because there is already an inner circle of competence, the learner can push the limits and move forward continuously.

Pushing the Edge to Learn by Jo Boaler

This idea, as you heard in the message by Jo Boaler, is at the heart of our math program. Teachers of math at RPCS are well aware of Ms. Boaler’s work and consider this edge of challenge as they plan for their students. Every class begins with a math activity that requires thinking and analysis. Students discuss, evaluate, and usually change their original answers as they are challenged to think about the solution from new perspectives. There are many “Ah ha” moments and examples of girls asking for yet another similar problem to tackle. They are being taught that problem solving uses many skillsets and that struggling with solutions is the part of the process where learning happens. Over the year, I will elaborate on the amazing learning that happens in all our classrooms including math. As I wrap-up, enjoy the audio, copied below, of some of our fifth grade students as they work through the process of a challenging problem last week and, if interested, read the Edutopia article about promoting challenging thinking in math with similar “hooks” like our lower school data analysis and number talks. You may even be inspired to push on your “edge” with MathHooks.com! Enjoy.

 

Productive Struggles in Math

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • What was the message from this week’s Lunch Reading with Mrs. Teeing? Who were the Bronte Sisters? What did Ruth Wakefield invent?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- What song about horses have you learned in music class and will perform at Friday’s Morning Meeting?

 

  • If you are in First Grade- What do you enjoy about Innovation class time? How do you feel your performance of a Chinese song will be this Friday during Morning Meeting?

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  • If you are in Second Grade- What role did you play in your Reader’s Theatre production of Helen Keller? How did you practice and how did you film the presentation?
  • If you are in Third Grade- How did you plan out your idea for the 100 Dresses project? Did you have a favorite other than your own?

 

  • If you are in Fourth Grade- How will you prepare for the ERB testing this week?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What do you feel are the most important elements of a playground? How did you study for your geography test?

 

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The Work Has Just Begun

The work has begun. I am not talking about lesson plans by our teachers or the homework assignments of our girls, but rather the work of exploring how community, equity and inclusion have a role in the Lower School experience of our girls and youngest students. As defined in our recent re-brand, one of the core values here at Roland Park Country School is to seek and embrace diversity. We know that a diverse student body results in better experiences for everyone and enriches our community in many ways. The responsibility to seek and embrace diversity extends far beyond the admissions team. Our educators and staff members also have a responsibility to ensure that our students feel included and supported throughout their school experience. How will we know that they are supported and included?, What does that really look like for our students of color?…..are questions we grapple with and need to explore.

 

In the Lower School, we feel so fortunate this year to have the guidance and expertise of Akailah McIntyre, our new Director of Diversity. I had the privilege of spending many hours with Akailah over the summer mapping out a series of professional development sessions for our faculty. Over seven afternoons during the school year, we hope to engage teachers in meaningful conversations around identity, implicit bias, hidden microaggressions, and ways to address difficult topics in the classroom.

 

The work has begun. Last Thursday, we gathered together as a faculty and reflected on words of historical figures about inclusion, responded to feelings of emotion and anxiety within the community, and committed to remaining open to new insights and a deeper understanding of these complex issues. The session included a reading of what the meaning of “microaggressions” is in reality. We grappled with our own misconceptions and society’s misunderstandings of the term. To conclude, our faculty watched a TED talk about “The Danger of a Single Story”, which I have linked below. It is such a moving piece about how often our default is to judge another’s “story” based on stereotypes or our own implicit bias. Our future conversations will build on these activities. We hope to create for our students, and each other, many safe spaces to explore the diverse experiences within our community and eventually build an understanding that empowers us to change the narrative outside the walls of RPCS.

 

Big goals. The work has just begun.

 

The Danger of a Single Story

 

If you would like to read more about teaching social justice to young children to share with your children at home, below is an article you might find interesting.

 

Teaching Young Children About Social Justice

I hope that my communication with you encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your children. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.

  • What was the message from this week’s Morning Meeting with Mrs. Teeling? What do you notice about the changing seasons when you step outside? What does it mean to be a hostess? Why do visitors like to come to RPCS and learn more about what you are doing in your classes?
  • If you are in Kindergarten- What math games did you play with Ms. Goss this week when she visited your classroom?
  • If you are in First or Second Grade- What was your favorite part of the Harvest Feast?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What was it like working with the upper school on your lines for the Reader’s Theater play of “One Hundred Dresses”?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- How did you generate ideas for your “I AM” poem? What pictures did you choose to illustrate your passions? What was it like to present to the grade and Ms. Blatti?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What ideas did your group come up with for a “perfect playground” and why? How will you construct your prototype?

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