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posted: Sat, May 13th, 2017
A sample math problem with the wolf theme

Wolves keep kids engaged in afterschool program 

STARS, the district’s afterschool academic support program, was given a fresh, innovative structure this year that centered all activities around a single theme – wolves. The new curriculum and focus of the 16-week program kept students engaged and excited to learn. 

STARS is an acronym that stands of Students and Teachers Achieving Rigorous Standards. The program was designed for elementary students in grades 3-5 who need extra help in meeting today’s tough standards in language arts and math.

The wolf theme was incorporated into both subject areas in every imaginable way. In language arts, for example, students read literature and informational articles to compare the ways that wolves are portrayed in fiction versus their real-life behaviors and characteristics. In math, students completed word problems that incorporated wolves and wolf facts into the narratives.

“Kids of this age think wolves are fascinating,” said Tinc Road teacher Kathy Diefes, facilitator of the program. “They loved the lessons and learning about the wolves. It kept them motivated and engaged as they worked on their language arts and math.”

As a culminating classroom activity that allowed them to hone their computer skills, students completed projects to show off what they had learned about wolves over the course of the program. Some students developed Powerpoint presentations while others chose to show off their creativity with novel projects such as the wolf Jeopardy game created by one group. 

As an incentive, students with high attendance were allowed to be a part of an end-of-the-program field trip to the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Colombia, New Jersey.

STARS was run at each of the four elementary schools. In total, 75 students and 10 teachers participated. Sessions were held twice per week, for an hour each.

Experiencing the world

From film strips to movies to videotapes to multimedia websites, developing technology over the years has been used in the classroom to bring the sights and sounds of the world to students. Now portable video and video conferencing are taking those experiences to a powerful new level, and two CMS teachers have embraced with open arms the opportunities that the technology avails. 

Britt Henricksen and Dani Marangon have taken their fifth-grade class around the globe right from the classroom SMART board. The students have been virtual travelers on a host of virtual field trips this year. From the comfort of their classroom, and without the hassle and expense of actual travel, the students have visited California Carnivores an hour north of San Francisco to learn about carnivorous plants. They’ve been to Australia to hear a motivational speaker talk about perseverance and dedication. And they’ve been to the aircraft carrier, Intrepid, now the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum located on the Hudson River in Manhattan.

These live experiences allow the fifth-graders to interact with the presenters and tour guides in a personal way that really does simulate the feel of actually being on site. And they introduce students to careers they may not even know exist.

“It all goes back to keeping kids engaged and helping them find their passions,” said Ms. Marangon. “It’s a great feeling to see them get excited about learning new things. They get to communicate with people who are incredibly passionate about their careers, who’ve devoted their entire lives to various fields. You can’t experience that with a textbook.”

One of the most popular virtual trips was one of the most recent: a trip to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. Students saw Civil War artifacts and learned important facts and interesting tidbits about the era. Luke Pineda was fascinated by one of the requirements of both the Union and Confederacy for military service.

“There’s a rule that says you have to have two teeth on the top and bottom to fight in the Civil War,” said Luke. “I never knew that before.”

Ms. Henricksen and Ms. Marangon also used the experience at the historical society to teach a lesson about the differences between primary and secondary informational sources. 

While several of the virtual trips have been arranged independently by the teachers, many have been part of Field Trip Zoom and Microsoft’s Skype in the Classroom – programs that connect educators with experts and institutions around the world. Both websites offer online catalogs of upcoming virtual trips in a wide variety of subject areas. (See https://education.microsoft.com/skype-in-the-classroom/virtual-field-trips for more.) 

Next month, the class will virtually visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. 

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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Phone: 973.691.4002 Fax: 973.691.4030

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