The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Fay Magazine: Summer 2022

Responsive Curriculum At Work

Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
Across the divisions, Fay students benefit from curricular projects that thoughtfully evolve to incorporate new perspectives and engage students in meaningful learning.
The view from the Primary School lent an additional layer of beauty to Fay’s landscape this spring, as poetry flowed off the page and onto the windows. Upper School students worked with Primary Schoolers to transfer and illustrate verses inspired by spring on the hallway windows. English Department Chair Dr. Joseph Mendes wanted to create an immersive poetry experience to make the power of poetry visible and tangible to Fay’s youngest students. After reading and discussing each poem, students worked together to decorate the windows. They spent the final weeks of the term walking through a snow globe of expressive language and colorful imagery. “I hope that the Primary School students came away realizing that the world is itself a beautifully complex poem, full of wonder and excitement,” said Joseph. “There is poetry in everything from the tiniest ladybug to the smell of the sea in winter.”
Fay’s curriculum is responsively designed to engage students in deep work, sparking their creativity, imagination, and natural curiosity. The result is that even long-standing curricular projects evolve year over year to incorporate new technologies, skills, and perspectives. “Curriculum at Fay is not stagnant,” notes Director of the Educational Program Julie Porrazzo. “Our faculty are always thinking about the specific students in their classrooms. They assess the course’s major objectives and the students’ current skills, consider our schoolwide goals such as design thinking and cultural competency, and adjust their curricular plans accordingly. As a result, assignments and demonstrations of understanding are ever-evolving.”
Adding Depth and Breadth
Instead of a “whirlwind tour” of all 50 states in their social studies classes, this year third graders conducted in-depth research on just a handful of states. As they “traveled” through the United States by region, each student researched one state in the area and compiled their findings into a presentation to teach their classmates about the unique characteristics, culture, industry, and special places and citizens of their state.
This unit provides an opportunity for students to learn foundational research skills as they access classroom and library resources, explore online databases, and determine whether a source is credible. This year’s shift away from a general survey of states to an in-depth approach also challenged students to compare and contrast the cultures of the states they researched while developing additional expertise. “The students loved being the go-to person for their state!” says third grade teacher Katie Buteau.
In seventh grade Creators class, students participate in an architecture project that has evolved into a comprehensive examination of the history, culture, and fabrication techniques of a unique architectural style. Each student chooses a distinct architectural dwelling style, from the Minka homes of Japan to the traditional roundhouses of the British Isles and the Trulli of Italy. They research the history and influences of their architectural style and how it reflects the lifestyle and values of its time and place. While students used to build a model of their home in Minecraft, they now use SketchUp, Illustrator, and Tinkercad design software to create digital renderings and a physical 3D model of their designs. “Students are learning not only how to do the research, but how to express their understanding of that research in their model,” says Creativity & Design teacher Andrew Shirley.
Sparking Creativity
Design thinking can provide additional entry points for students to engage with their learning and express their understanding. While Fay Kindergarten students have always explored habitats and animal adaptations, this spring the children became habitat designers. Inspired by a visit to the Franklin Park Zoo, students worked in groups to research an animal and what it needs in its habitat to survive. Students organized their information in a planner with illustrations and then brought their research to life by using recycled materials to build a habitat. Students were excited to show off their animal expertise. For example, the camel team made two camels out of modeling clay because they learned that camels are social animals that like to live in herds. “The students benefit when they can grapple with a project over multiple days,” says Kindergarten Teacher Lee Bogaert. “There is so much excitement and buy-in from the kids, and you can see their interest building.”
First grade students also had the opportunity to stretch their design thinking skills with a bridge-building project. Teachers have presented versions of this project in the past, but this year students were challenged to focus on the elements of a bridge’s design that contribute to its strength. Before students started designing, design teacher Deborah Morrone-Bianco offered some inspiration with a primer on different bridge structures. She showed examples of arch, beam, suspension, truss, and cantilever bridges, comparing the strength of different materials and shapes incorporated into each design. “As students sketched their own designs, you could see them sampling different aspects of what they had learned to improve their design,” notes Deborah. After learning that triangles are the strongest shape, some students incorporated triangles and then combined them with the beauty and functionality of arches to create a bridge.
World Languages Chair Kara Mertz has long included designing a calavera, or sugar skull, as part of the sixth grade study of Dia De Los Muertos. However, the calavera has taken on different forms each year, from painted clay to Play-Doh decorated with beads and feathers. This year, students created calavera designs that were scanned, vectorized, and loaded into Illustrator graphics software and sent to the laser cutter. Once students had their laser-cut design, they incorporated the colors and symbols they had studied and chosen. Students could take the artistic representation of their calavera in whatever direction appealed to them most, with some choosing to hand draw and color, while those who were more technologically inclined focused on adding more laser-cut elements. The variety of entry points in this kind of project provides the opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding in ways that feel comfortable as well as challenging. “I like the element of choice,” says Kara. “Each calavera is colorful, unique, and beautiful in its own way."
Exploring Perspectives
Sometimes a small shift in a project can give students a new lens on their work. In Ward Russell’s fourth grade social studies class, students learn about the life and accomplishments of a well-known explorer for their biography projects. The project’s capstone event usually involves students dressing as their explorers and presenting a slideshow to the class. This year, Ward added a twist by inviting families and Lower School students to an Explorer Expo to meet each explorer and hear them talk about their accomplishments and challenges in character! The requirements that students be able to answer questions spontaneously and in character motivated them to dig more deeply into the life and experiences of their chosen explorer.
Shakespeare can be daunting to some students because of the difficulty of the language. This year, the eighth grade English teachers offered students a unique approach to a Twelfth Night character study by asking them to create an online dating profile for one of the characters. Far from frivolous, the assignment required students to demonstrate a deep understanding of each character’s motivations, interests, and aspirations, complete with at least six citations from the text to support their thinking. “It’s an interesting way to do a character study,” says English Department Chair Dr. Joseph Mendes, “because you have to look closely at what makes a character tick and what they’re looking for in life.”
Being Responsive to Students
Arts Department Chair Chris Kimball evaluates whether projects teach the requisite skills as well as whether they allow students to tap into their own stories and reasons for making art. For example, the eighth grade identity collage has morphed over the past two years from a mixed media project to a study of the duality of identity inspired by Frida Kahlo’s “The Two Fridas.” “We come to school each morning with these different perspectives and parts of us, and we want to look at how we represent all of that in a piece of artwork,” says Chris. Similarly, sixth graders had the opportunity to channel their individuality through a French project inspired by philosopher Roland Barthes and his famous list of likes and dislikes, “J’aime, Je n’aime pas.” Students studied Barthes and then composed their own lists of likes and dislikes, acquiring new vocabulary and practicing the fluidity of their pronunciation as they presented the projects to the class.
In math teacher Janet Drake’s Advanced Geometry class, being responsive to her students has inspired Janet to become more tech-savvy. Impressed by the work that she could see her students producing with an iPad and Apple pencil, Janet adopted these tools as well. She shares a slideshow on her tablet each day, and students leave class with a digital version of Janet’s class notes as a reference. If a student needs clarification, Janet can quickly do a problem demonstration using GoodNotes and upload it to the entire class. Technological touches like projects created with the Canva graphic design platform, Powerpoint presentations with embedded videos, and CAD software renderings to represent the dimensions of irregular objects have become the norm. “Initially, I worried about all the iPads and Apple pencils, but I think these tools help students be more attentive in class,” says Janet. “They enjoy the technology and all the ways they can represent what they are learning.”
Being Responsive to the World
This winter, ninth graders in Topics in Modern America (TMA) traced the timeline of the Civil Rights Movement, examining one event from that time period in depth to understand its impact on the overall movement. While TMA students always cover the major events of the 1950s and ’60s, “every year we explore the period from a different angle. This year we were highlighting the under- celebrated heroes of the Civil Rights Movement,” explains History Department Chair John Beloff. Each student researched a single event and created poster in the style of a newspaper front page: the poster include background on the event, an explanation of what happened, and its historical significance in the larger Civil Rights Movement. Photographs related to the event, a map of where it took place, and quotes from the individuals involved were also required. All of this information had to be presented in a thoughtfully designed and logical format so that readers could easily digest the impact and relevance of each event.“ We're not changing the curriculum,” notes John.“ We're just looking at it through a different lens that I think is more relevant to what's going on today.”

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