The alumna and former Pingry faculty member and coach returns to Pingry to lead the School's Human Resources function.
Lower School students were brimming with excitement when a thoughtfully designed curricular collaboration brought them to the Basking Ridge Campus' chicken coop in late October! On a beautiful Monday morning, gleeful first-grade students boarded one of Pingry's busses from the Short Hills Campus to visit Pingry's chickens, experience a hands-on lesson on sustainable farming and the needs of living things from juniors and seniors taking Environmental Science, and create their own drawings of the Pingry fowl. This was Pingry's first cross-campus, interdepartmental experiential lesson, several months in the making.
Before . . . a Conference and a Collaboration
The event was the brainchild of Lower School Science Teacher Heather Smith P '16 and Lower School Visual Arts Teacher Lindsay Baydin P '26, '29—specifically, it resulted from their participation in the 2019 ISEEN (Independent Schools Experiential Education Network) Summer Institute. It offered, for the first time, a cohort for Elementary Education (for Lower and Middle School teachers) and tasked those dozen teachers with creating a lesson plan based on the Kolb Cycle, one that included a concrete learning experience and reflection. As Mrs. Baydin emphasizes, she, Ms. Smith, and many other elementary school teachers (at Pingry and elsewhere) "have been teaching with experiential education methodologies for years, to benefit our students. We provide kinesthetic learning opportunities that use all five senses and educate the whole child."
Mrs. Baydin and Ms. Smith used this lesson as an opportunity to coordinate first graders' living/non-living science unit and "life drawing" and sculpture units in visual arts, with a careful integration of content between the two subject areas and several methods of reflection. "We used the Kolb Cycle with the first-grade students last year for a lesson on drawing pumpkins, so we are continuing the same interdisciplinary approach with this group of students," Ms. Smith says. Once the science and visual arts pieces were in place, Upper School Biology Teacher and Farm and Sustainability Coordinator Olivia Tandon planned the Upper School portion. "Rather than go on a field trip outside of Pingry, we wanted to explore what Pingry has to offer right at its doorstep. Since Olivia attended the same conference, in the science cohort, it was the perfect opportunity to do something cross-divisional like visiting the chickens," Mrs. Baydin says.
Ms. Tandon's Environmental Science students were in the midst of a unit on the local environment, focusing on the chickens (local farming) and composter as methods Pingry is using to reduce its carbon footprint and benefit the environment. At the same time, her class has been considering how students can be good stewards of the environment and give back to the community. "One of the ways is through teaching younger students what they have learned, and sharing their love of nature and the environment with them. This was the focus for us in terms of the chicken lesson," Ms. Tandon says. "My Environmental Science students had already completed projects focusing on why the farm is beneficial, so this was a continuation, allowing them to teach the first-graders a lesson about chicken care and habits."
To prepare for their visit, the first-grade students created a chart with three sections: what they knew about chickens, what they wanted to know, and what they learned. Ms. Smith taught them parts of a chicken, the animal's life cycle, and chicken vocabulary, such as "oviparous," "free range," "pecking order," "roost," and "nesting boxes." They also worked on a hands-on project: using the modeling compound Model Magic®, students sculpted their own small chickens for an art display, "The Big Blue Coop," that lives between the K-2 Science Lab and Visual Arts Center.
During . . . Explore, Touch, Draw
Walking the scenic path to the chicken coop from the Upper School building, the first-grade students collected leaves and seeds. "By using their observation skills and 'looking like a scientist,' they noticed the change in the leaves and seeds as they progressed along the trail to the chicken coop," Ms. Smith says.
Several activities took place, almost simultaneously, during the Lower School/Upper School get-together: an "information exchange" among the younger and older students about the chickens' life cycle (the Environmental Science students were impressed by how much their younger counterparts already knew); younger students exploring the coop and petting a chicken ("That was so soft!" one student reported to her friends); and a close look at eggs of different colors from different breeds (green and brown eggs that were laid that morning).
Later, the first-grade students gathered at a table a few feet from the coop, facing the chickens, to create "gesture drawings" that capture the birds' movement. Each child made three drawings, one rooster, one hen, and one chick. "Draw for 30 seconds or maybe a minute," Mrs. Baydin advised. "It's kind of a scribble. You're looking for movement and shapes." A couple of minutes later, with the drawings assembled in a row against the coop, for collective display, Upper School Visual Arts Teacher and Experiential Education Coordinator Rebecca Sullivan—who has done gesture drawings with her own students—asked the students for their observations. Pointing at one of the images, one girl exclaimed, "That one doesn't really have feet, but that's fine!" Another student added, "They're all different!"
Touching on the value of experiential education, Mrs. Sullivan remarked to the Lower Schoolers, "You're going to remember what the chickens look like, because you drew them."
After . . . More Pictures, More Questions, More Ex Ed!
Returning from Basking Ridge, the first-grade students not only made drawings, diagrams, and notes in their science reflection journals, but also wrote follow-up questions to Ms. Tandon's students, including: Why are roosters so colorful compared to hens? Is there a vet for the coop? Where are the chickens' ears? Who cleans the coop? Who buys food for the chickens?
"This is [an example of] how the Kolb Cycle keeps going. From the answers to those questions, they're going to learn more. It could go very deep," Mrs. Baydin observes. "The beauty of the experiential education process is that it is a holistic, never-ending cycle of learning that is authentic, personal, and transformative."
Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer and Editor of The Pingry Review