Tuesday, July 18, 2006

No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn

The Montessori Summer Program concluded this past Friday on the plaza in front of Borough Hall in Brooklyn. We all go into teaching searching for those fulfilling moments. Some teachers receive letters or visits from former students letting us know the impact we had on their lives. Friday was one of those experiences that will be stored in the memory banks of the students and teachers for years to come. I know personally next year around February, when I’m beginning to loose faith in the system, I will look back and reflect on this experience.

Currently I am reading “Whats Worth Fighting for in Our Schools” and at first glance the answer is simple to me ‘programs like the one we had this summer.’ It really was something special.

OK Brown, What was so special? Really nothing, the teachers took 48 students who for one reason or another were lacking in appropriate credit and decided to work 8 to 10 hours a day studying the Brooklyn Bridge. The intensive research was compiled into a book, published, and then distributed to the public by the students on the bridge. They also received instant feedback by on the booklets at http://www.brooklyn-bridge.blogspot.com/ .

Using the model of backward design by Grant Wiggins as abbreviated at the ISA Summer Institute during the Terry Borne curriculum workshop the teachers of the Montessori Small Learning Community developed an interdisciplinary masterpiece.

In a moment of complete serendipity I found myself sitting aside Jonathan Katz at dinner, and then attndeding his thematic workshop applying quadratic equations to the design of suspension bridges just 4 days prior to the launch of our project. He outlined how to get students to create blueprints then build their own models of suspension bridges. The teachers had been throwing around the idea of how to have the students create a model of a bridge but Katz really gave us the 'nutz and boltz' on how to accomplish this task.

The experience was incredible. We as a whole (teachers and students) applied quadratic formulas to graph parabolas and create blueprints for our own suspension bridges. We then became entrenched in the literacy of bridges. Words like: tower, vertical suspenders, anchorage, vertex, main span, side span, tetanus, caisson, and ratio all became part of our vernacular over the next nine days.

After watching Ken Burns’ documentary “Brooklyn Bridge” (which airs routinely on PBS) the team of bridge investigators began to look more closely at NYC during the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Using primary sources such as Roebling’s engineering reports to the trustees of Brooklyn and NYC, and many articles from the Brooklyn Eagle our students began to piece together the controversial history surrounding the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Also inspired by the video students began to look more closely at the steel making process, the tidal region of the “East River”, and the devastating effects of decompression disease.

If this sounds all too much to attempt in 9 days with students who struggle in traditional school I would have agreed with you. However on July 14th the students had completed the booklets and distributed them to an impressed public.
Why are we unable to do this during the school year?


Anonymous said...

Wow...sounds like an amazing and fruitful experience for all.
Just one thing... "public" is spelled with an "l".
Brown, you really need Lori as an editor.

W Brown said...


I have since placed all my "l"'s in their proper allignment.

Thanks for keeping the blog pg

fswetten said...

This sounds like an amazing assigment that covers all the disclipines, but I still have a problem with awarding a student a full course credit for completing one assigment. It's great that the mastered the Brooklyn Brigde using all disciplines, but what about all the other topics they failed to grasp in my class. I commend all of you for working hard and being dedicated to this project and I sure it turned out incredible. I just struggle with how credit should be awarded for our summer program.

fswetten said...

This sounds like an amazing project covering all disciplines, but I still struggle with how credit should be awarded for this summer program. I commend all the hard work and effort of all invovled, but does mastering quadratic equations and learning the history of the brooklyn bridge warrant a full credit in a math or history course where a vast array of topics are covered. I am not criticizing the work but I still question the way credit is awarded for this program

Anonymous said...

What got me was the motivation of previously unmotivated students? Can it just be the opportunity to have x number of free weeks of summer? They got there on time, they stayed all day, they did the work. The experience left me feeling hopeful as well as challenged.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Greetings from a relatively newly-qualified English Teacher working in Scotland. Interesting BLOG! I shall keep an eye on it!