Lower School Library & Tech Meets Derby IPC

Lower School library and technology working hand-in-hand to support the International Primary Curriculum

By Amy Fish — It has been said, in this age of technology, that there are two types of beings: the digital natives, who are children born with technology at their fingertips, and the digital immigrants—everyone else. Our digital natives have been navigating their IPC projects in the Lower School with the aid of written materials, technology and hands-on learning.

In Grade One, the Building Unit is in full swing; students are researching and discussing international landmarks in the classroom. In tech class, students are using Microsoft Paint to illustrate homes and city buildings, and Toca Builders to create worlds of colored blocks. After learning about animal habitats from PebbleGo, they drew a beaver lodge using drawing tools and the paint bucket. The LS Library has also provided subject specific building books for use in their classroom.

In Grade Two, the Water Unit is also in progress. The students are logging into PebbleGo and playing subject related games to reinforce what was learned from the ocean, river and lake chapters as well as section on the continuous movement of the water cycle or hydrologic cycle. Library books have been pulled and are on display in the classrooms featuring the topics of water and Malawi, an upcoming unit.

Grade Three Health and Fitness is a cross-curriculum collaborative unit; classroom, technology, library and PE classes have been working together. Students are creating a double-sided tri-fold brochure on the human body, using research gleaned from books, apps and websites; typing information, changing fonts and using special/color effects; downloading and sizing photos of their assigned human body part; and introducing documentation of resources. Each brochure consists of six panels of information typed by the students, including a title page, fun facts and a resources page along with images preselected to correspond with the information presented.

Please ask your children to help you navigate a few of the apps and websites used for some of their projects.


“Toca Builders is an award winning kids app that makes it fun to drop, spray, smash and lift blocks to construct new objects—may it be a house, lamp or maybe a banana?”


username: derbytlc
password: derby

“PebbleGo is the award-winning PreK-3 database for reading and research. The PebbleGo databases make learning and improving reading and research skills fun, building on children’s interest. PebbleGo offers four databases: PebbleGo Animals and PebbleGo Science, PebbleGo Biographies and PebbleGo Social Studies. Databases are simple to navigate and offer key reading supports such as read-along audio and word-by-word highlighting.”


“Explore a working model of the body, with interactive skeletal, digestive, muscular, circulatory, and respiratory systems. Play and learn anatomy.”


“An educational site covering subjects such as history, science, geography, math, and biographies. Pages are written to be easy to read and understand.”

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From A Conversation with Emily Shepard, Derby Art Teacher

It’s a busy time of year. Calendars are full and special events abound! The arts become especially visible around the holidays, because they are an expression of our joy and draw people together in celebration. Culture, tradition and belief are shared as students perform with music, poetry, dance and drama for our Derby community. Exhibits of artwork around campus and in the Brown Art Gallery create a setting for these festivities.

However, the arts are much more than a vehicle for celebration. The arts contribute in significant ways to the education of our students. Emily Shepard and I frequently explore the role studio art plays in our curriculum and how learning goals are supported through her work with the children.

Emily’s teaching approach is shaped through her work at Harvard University and her graduate studies of Project Zero’s
Studio Thinking. This body of research names eight Studio Habits of Mind. “Expression is the thing we think of immediately when we think of creativity. And while emotional engagement is essential to learning, there is much more to arts practice than just free expression.” Emily goes on to explain that the arts allow children to experiment, take chances and be flexible in their thinking. Children must visualize and imagine possibilities and approaches to problem solving. Art trains students to look closely and notice, as well as reflect upon and critique their work. “In our Derby studio, students learn to revise as they create first, second and even third drafts. Engage and persist are Studio Habits I am careful to prioritize.”

It is easy to see how these habits are essential across all subjects. Any instructional practice is more successful when students 1. develop a craft, 2. stretch and explore, 3. express, 4. understand community, 5. envision, 6. observe, 7. engage and persist, and 8. reflect on their learning. Children who develop these dispositions will be well prepared as scientists, writers, researchers, mathematicians and even social change-makers. This is really exciting stuff! No wonder Emily’s passion for art spills over to students and teachers!

If you find yourself in the Mary MacPherson Primary/Lower School building, be sure to pause outside Emily Shepard’s art studio and take in the exhibits she has prepared. The children’s work provides all the evidence you need to appreciate and value Studio Thinking. Currently, the display case houses works-in-progress from second grade. Students are working in pairs to sculpt wire buildings, which will form a model community as part of a larger IPC unit. In creating this piece, students take on the roles of architect and community planner. They must think spatially and mathematically to  construct geometric forms with clear edges and corners; they must work together to make decisions about scale, placement and infrastructure.


While some projects are grounded in interdisciplinary IPC units, students may also be inspired by the work of a famous artist. In a Kindergarten study of Alberto Giacometti, students explored gesture, or body movement, by using their own bodies to inspire wire and plaster sculptures. (Their work is now on exhibit in the Hingham Public Library.) Kindergarten is now studying Louise Nevelson, who built large assemblages from scrap wood. Students took scraps from the Derby woodshop and collected other bits of “beautiful junk” to form a collaborative assemblage of their own.

Emily’s explanations and student comments and reflections are generally posted alongside her displays. The care and respect given to each exhibit convey the message that children’s work is important, it is valued and it is to be taken very seriously. Just like the sculpture, collage, photography and painting exhibited in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, this is the real deal.

Read more from Polly Rizzotto at Derby Academy’s Primary & Lower School Blog >>

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The Teacher’s Role in Developing Students of Excellent Character

One of the most important tasks we have as faculty members at Derby is to develop and nurture caring, respectful and empathetic students. Our school’s mission statement is very clear about this: We are charged with guiding students “…toward an awakening sense of personal responsibility in order to prepare them to make ethical and mindful contributions in an increasingly interdependent world.”

As anyone who has worked with or parented middle school-aged children knows, this can be a challenging job on most days – as boys and girls reach adolescence and enter a stage in their growth that is full of uncertainty, stress and tremendous cognitive, social, emotional and physical change. So how do we, as educators, teach young adolescents to be individuals of good character, particularly in grades six to eight, when these changes are at their peak and, at times, being nice, respectful and inclusive of others can be the furthest thought from a child’s mind (as they attempt to figure out and handle the changes that they are personally experiencing)?

As our students go through this period, the Middle and Upper School teachers use an extremely valuable set of tenets called Responsibilities and Rights to help us guide students as they interact with one another and as they make daily choices as members of the Derby Community. One or more of the five principles in this “code for social behavior” may be applied, in my view, to just about every instance of when a student makes a poor decision on our campus. The plain language of our Responsibilities and Rights also provides excellent learning opportunities for Middle and Upper Schoolers, as well as valuable teachable moments for our faculty. You will notice that the first tenet is centered on the term “respect” and the last one on the notion of always doing one’s “personal best.” The fact these two are the bookends for the code is done on purpose, given their power to influence students in their character development.

As Joe Perry, our Head of School, mentioned in his State of the School Address last week, academic and social/personal growth go hand in hand when we think about teaching and raising children to be successful as both learners and healthy, contributing members of a school community. To me, you really cannot pull the two apart when discussing adolescents; their ability to experience success in the classroom is closely tied to how they feel about themselves, their place in their community, their relationships with both peers and adults, and the degree to which they feel respected by others in their school, especially the adults.

Julie Baron, a social worker, adolescent therapist and former middle school counselor, recently summed this up well in a blog she wrote recently for the educational website, Edutopia. She notes,

“We know that adolescents are acutely aware of when adults are treating them with respect and when they aren’t. We also know that engagement leads to successful academic outcomes and a greater sense of well-being for both the student and educator. If (students) are more likely to engage with adults who respect them, it’s safe to say that respect is essential to student learning.

When adolescents describe the ways in which they experience respect, they report that they want to feel challenged by being pushed beyond their comfort zone. They want adults to hold the bar high for them. They feel respected when adults listen and respond to them without judgment, and accept their beliefs and values, however different from their own. And when adults are responsive to their intellectual, physical, social, and emotional needs, adolescents feel this as genuine concern for their welfare, which in turn makes them feel valued.”

Read more from John Houghton at Derby Academy’s Middle & Upper School Blog >>

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High Ropes

By Avery O’Connor ’16 — When we first started talking about the Sargent Center, all I could think about was the ropes course. I am so scared of heights, and I kept telling my parents I didn’t want to do it. The idea of challenge by choice gave me a perfect way out. My mom said I should at least try. So that’s what I decided to do. The day of the climb my stomach was in knots. I remember sitting at breakfast having no appetite.
After breakfast we headed to a big room, where we first met our counselors. We got our helmets and harnesses on and headed to the training center. Once we got there, they told us how to clip ourselves in to feel secure. I still did not think this was going to be fun or safe.

Once we were ready, we went to the actual course. The wires and ropes petrified me. I watched Chris, one of the counselors, go up. He made it look so easy, but I knew it wouldn’t be for me. I got in line with the rest of my peers. The girls in front of me were asking to get down—I knew I was probably going to do the same. I climbed up the log to get to the first stand. I think that had to be the worst part, because I kept on getting tangled in the ropes and pulley system. Someone was in front of me on the stand, so I had to wait behind the tree, on a very slim piece of wood, many feet off the ground before it was my turn. Finally, I was up. I decided to go the easiest route because I didn’t want to be up high for too long. I grabbed a carabiner and asked for a clip-in, then a safety check. There was a safety knot above me, which I had to raise higher because I’m tall. I didn’t know it then, but Medic Mike, the camp medic, was telling me to lean up against the tree so I could push the knot higher to make it more secure. This worked great at the time, because if I fell, I wouldn’t fall to my death; I would just float in the air.

Then it was time to take my first step. Once I did, I was shaking so much my legs felt like Jell-O. I took a second step and started to regain my balance. On the third step… I fell. I just dangled in the air with the harness digging into my body. I could hear Mrs. Olsen cheering me on and telling me to keep going. I got back up on the wire and continued to walk across it. Once I got to the last two steps, I felt accomplished. I realized then I was only halfway there, and I felt the nerves come back into my body.

There was one more wire to cross with dangling ropes to grab onto. I started to walk, hoping it would be easier. I got to the first rope and fell. Medic Mike encouraged me to pull myself along instead of getting back up and walking across. I held on to the rope with one hand and pulled myself along with the other holding on to the wire. At first it was easy, and then my arms started to get tired. Once I finally reached the end, I struggled to get on the platform where I needed to walk across the bridge toward the zip line. There were seven people waiting for me on this platform, and barely any room for me to land. Once again, I didn’t feel safe, but I knew I had gotten through the hardest part. Harry Quillen helped me up and I just sat on a tiny corner of the platform. Natasha, one of the Sargent Center counselors, let me go before all the boys because she wanted to make room for my classmate Peyton, who was coming right behind me. I walked across the Shrek Bridge to the tall ladder that would lead me to the victory zip line. I finished going up the ladder and was clipped onto the tree. The platform that I stood on was wide and had several people on it. I looked out at the zip line  as a rush of excitement came over me. Finally, I would have the joy that pushed me to the end.

When it was my turn, I clipped in as my peers cheered. Once they shouted “Zip away!” I jumped off the platform and went flying across. It was the coolest thing I had ever felt. It was an amazing way to end such an exhausting and scary experience. I felt so proud. I realized this adventure was more than overcoming my fear of heights. It gave me confidence and taught me that I should always try new things and push myself. The Sargent Center was a great trip that made me feel strong, lifted my spirits and taught me things about myself and my peers. I’m so happy I did it.

Read more from Students on Derby Academy’s Middle & Upper School Blog >>

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Character Matters

By Polly Rizzotto — Last weekend I saw the documentary “He Named Me Malala” about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by Taliban militants because of her unwavering desire and advocacy for education. After surviving her assault, she became an internationally recognized activist for girls’ schooling and was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Her deeply moving speech before the United Nations concludes with her words, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”


I walked out of the theater with two thoughts: first, that education and academic opportunity are taken for granted by many Americans, and here at Derby our children benefit from an education better than most. And second, character matters. Malala is remarkable, not simply because of her academic achievement, but because of her strength of character. Malala made an astounding impact because of her intrinsic qualities and steadfast adherence to her principles.


Our Derby Pals Program Kicked Off this Week

By now you can see where I am headed! Derby parents and teachers want both academic achievement and strength of character as educational outcomes for our children. Strong academic curriculum promotes intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, openness to new information, effective communication, problem solving abilities and mastery of increasingly complex skills and information. Intentional social curriculum builds character, which can be harder to teach but easy to recognize in actions and words. According to Past President of NAIS Patrick Bassett, character is demonstrated through self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience and courage.


Earlier this Year Derby 3rd Graders Video Conferenced with Friends in Malawi

We see evidence of character all around us. Third grade students build a bridge of understanding with Malawi students through Facetime conversations and the exchange  of letters and videos. Middle School children mentor their younger buddies as they complete activities during our Pals gatherings. Eighth graders greet and help Primary and Lower School children as they are dropped off in the morning car line. Students take risks and persevere as they learn to play a musical instrument or even cross the monkey bars! School wide support of the Foley Prize initiatives succeeds because of student commitment. Every day teachers notice small acts of kindness and consideration when a child takes time to comfort a friend, patiently explains a math problem or invites a bystander into a game. The school day often concludes with acknowledgements of compassion and personal responsibility. When social learning is made a priority, children build an essential set of social skills and values as we go about our daily lives at Derby.

Why does character matter? Character matters because it builds strong, healthy relationships within our school community. Character matters because it prepares and propels our children forward “to make ethical and mindful contributions in an increasingly interdependent world.”

Read more from Polly Rizzotto at Derby Academy’s Primary & Lower School Blog >>

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