Welcome to the Headmaster's Blog where you'll find updates, thoughts, and events regarding Saint David's School, the education of boys, and other items of interest. This is by no means meant to be a complete account of all that happens at Saint David's. Please refer to the school's website for more complete details -- it's more a Headmaster's musings.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Legos in Science Lab

Second graders were asked to predict which would weigh more: a group of Legos that were attached or those same Legos in loose pieces.

All of the boys in the class predicted that the Legos stuck together would weigh more/have more mass than the same Legos, loose. In illustrations, they provided their reasoning.

For example, one boy reasoned that Legos stuck together would make the Legos bigger and therefore, heavier.

They then got to work testing their predictions. In pairs, they first weighed the attached group of Legos, and then took the Legos apart, weighing them in loose pieces. This led to a most unexpected discovery and squeals of surprise for the groups that were careful with their measuring: the Legos weighed the same!

Reflecting on the results, the boys came to this realization, as one boy put it: "They weigh the same because it's the same exact pieces, together or apart."

Exactly. And how powerful that the boys came to realize this not by being told, but through their own experimentation. This is how the testing of ideas drives true learning.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Author Elise Broach at Saint David's

Yesterday, boys in several classes were treated to a visit by writer Elise Broach (author of The Masterpiece Adventures featuring the first novel in that series The Miniature World of Marvin and James). Elise met with first and second graders in the morning and, after a lunch with our librarians and writing teachers, she spoke with the boys in the fifth and sixth grades.

Elise engaged both groups of boys in a discussion about the ideas behind her picture books and novels; how she generates them and the journey from concept to printed book. Imagination, family stories, pets, sports, experiences, dreams and "what if" questions were all discussed as great sources for book ideas.

She encouraged the boys to write about something they are passionate and excited about, and spoke about the decades-long shelf lives of classic books. Her sessions also focused on the editing component to writing, and the importance of revision in the book writing process. "The most important part of my job is correcting my stories to make them better and good enough to be published books," she said.

In their writing classes, our boys do extensive revising and peer editing of their work, so to hear that even a professional writer needs to go through multiple drafts, was of great interest to them.

Ms. Broach's visit to Saint David's was sponsored by our wonderful Parent Association's Author Series Committee.

The clip below is from the morning session with first and second graders.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Art Throughout Saint David's

The Winter Art Show is up. As always during these two weeks in mid-winter, it is warming the halls of our school with examples of the art our boys have created this school-year in art, pottery, and woodworking classes. Work from all grades and all boys hangs proudly throughout our beautiful buildings.

Our boys' study in art is informed by the study of master artists, visits to art museums, and by learning the skills, tools, and criteria for creating art, so that what they produce is deliberate--the result of careful thought and analysis, and trial-and-error, as well as creativity. 

Here's a brief look at some of their work; visit the school to see all!


The art created by our boys often is linked to their study in other disciplines; so that when our fourth graders study the Egyptian civilization, for example, they also create figures in the style of the ancient Egyptians.

Third graders take what they learn about engineering to craft basic machines in woodworking.

Second graders experiment with printmaking, in preparation for Revolutionary Era prints they will create later in the year in social studies.

Eighth graders, who have been honing their observational drawing, are preparing for the sketching they will do when they are in Italy this March.

Our appreciation goes to their inspiring teachers: Ms. Boccella, Mr. Sunderwirth, Mr. Kessler, Ms. Fidler, and Ms. Frassinelli.

The aesthetic is an ideal and a pillar of our school, and it is now so beautifully on display.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Saint David's Alive With Music

This morning, in a highlight of our Winter Celebration of Art and Music,  I enjoyed the school's annual winter concert, featuring performances by the Saint David's Philharmonic Ensemble, the Percussion Ensemble, and the Chamber Singers.

The Ensemble, conducted by Phil Hough, played first and their repertoire included fine renditions of St. Anthony Chorale (Haydn), Overture to Lucio Silla (Mozart) and the Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden (Rimsky-Korsakov).

The Percussion Ensemble,  under the direction of John Francis, followed with We are Going To Be Friends (White Stripes) and Monkey Chant (Kotche).

Phyllis Clark's Chamber Singers rounded out the concert with Esta noche Bailare, Seid uns nun zweitenmal from The Magic Flute, Birth of St. Nicholas and Deo Gracias (Britten).

As always the boys performed with passion and great skill. They worked hard preparing for this concert, and it showed!  Congratulations to all of our young musicians and their teachers!

A brief video clip follows:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Grade 2 Explores Masks and Faces at The Met

Last Friday, second graders visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with their art teachers Ms. Boccella and Ms. Fidler, for a guided tour entitled “Masks and Faces” in conjunction with their mask making unit in art.   In homeroom groups, boys viewed a selection of masks and images of heads and faces from various cultures. These artifacts included a hammered gold Sican funerary mask made in Peru in the 10th century and a carved wooden Janus (two-faced) fire spitter helmet mask from the Ivory Coast.

Our boys explored concepts of shape, form, color, symmetry, exaggeration, and ritual in these works. They also had the opportunity to engage in some observational drawing of the masks they examined.  This out of the classroom experience, as well as what they have been learning about masks in their art classrooms will inspire the boys' own creations back at school.

We provide our boys with plentiful opportunities to learn by exploring and examining real artifacts, through partnerships with several educational and cultural institutions in our city and beyond. In so doing, we strive to deepen their understanding and broaden their perspectives. It is from this place of comprehension and thought that boys are empowered to explore ideas, old and new, and the ideals behind them.

Learning Art While Learning Spanish

Art in second grade is a rich, bilingual experience at Saint David's, as all the boys participate in a bilingual art class. The class incorporates the Spanish they are learning in a language immersion program that begins in the Pre-K, with the art topics they cover throughout the year.

Right now, the boys are examining masks in art, studying their various characteristics such as geometry, symmetry, abstraction, and exaggeration.

They also are learning the various uses for and symbols behind masks, and they will explore masks of non-Western cultures on an upcoming trip to the the Metropolitan Museum. There, they will use their observational drawing skills to sketch what they see. The unit will end with their creating their own tribal masks in the art studio.

Taking the teaching of Spanish into another discipline area is a strong way to reinforce and further comprehension of the target language in a natural way by drawing connections among topics the boys are exposed to in other subjects.

As global citizens our boys will need to be comfortable communicating with speakers of different languages, and sensitive to cultural differences.

Below is a brief clip of a bilingual art class on masks, and a second grade boy's initial mask drawing (note the incorporation of many of the characteristics I mentioned above).

Honoring MLK, Jr., Man of Ideas and Ideals

In a Saint David's tradition, to commemorate the legacy of  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we held a series of special Chapel talks yesterday and today for boys in Grades 3 through 8. I spoke to the boys about the 1963 March on Washington, and the significance of Dr. King's delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, 100 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

We considered Dr. King's advocacy of peaceful protest in pursuit of a country in which the Founders' dictate "all men are created equal" would apply equally to all men (and women) of all races and creeds, and of his belief in the power of words to effect change.

At each Chapel one of the boys then read Dr. King's famous speech aloud in its entirety, to a captivated group of his peers.  This year, our school theme, drawn from our mission, is Ideas and Ideals.  It is so powerful for the boys to hear Dr. King's original speech, so that they can more fully appreciate his efforts in pursuit of the ideas and ideals this country was founded on, as well as relate them to issues encountered in the present day.

The Chapels closed with our William Best leading the boys in the singing of Dr. King's favorite hymn "Take My Hand, Precious Lord, Lead Me Home." It was a moving and thought provoking experience.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Concert Kicks Off Winter Festival of Art and Music

This morning, Saint David's kicked off its Winter Festival of Art and Music with a wonderful concert given by our two orchestras for the boys in the Lower School.

The theme of the concert was "symphonies" and included performances of works by Brahms, Schubert, Mozart, Haydn and Tchaikovsky.

First up were our young musicians in the First Orchestra, under the direction of Ms. Andersen. Before playing, these boys in Grades One through Three, also spoke to the audience about the make-up of their orchestra and the pieces they were about to perform, which they did beautifully. Next came the older boys of the Philharmonic Ensemble, under the direction of Mr. Hough, performing splendidly for their younger classmates.

Whenever I attend our concerts, I walk away impressed that our boys can perform so well at such a young age. This a testament to the boys' talent, commitment and practice, and to the talent, dedication and acumen of conductors Andersen and Hough.

The Winter Festival is a special tradition at Saint David's, which celebrates our boys' creativity in the arts and the school's focus on the aesthetic as part of a balanced pedagogy.

During the next two weeks there will be many events showcasing our boys' work in the arts, warming these cold days of winter with the beauty of art and music. Below, is a brief clip from this morning's concert.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Digital Universe Field Study Takes Flight

On Friday Saint David's kicked off its new Digital Universe unit of study in the sixth grade science program. The unit is being conducted in a new partnership with the Digital Universe Flight School at the American Museum of Natural History. It will transform the boys’ study of astronomy. Our boys will learn to use cutting edge technology tools, with real-time data, to explore the universe.

They will research a question about astronomy, within the purview of our 6th grade curriculum, that is of particular interest to them and use professional astro-visualization software to develop and perform an engaging Planetarium presentation to share their findings inside the dome of the Hayden Planetarium.

This project is interdisciplinary in nature and will entail the boys' storyboarding and scripting their shows in English class and focusing on scale of the universe and the working of various technologies and methods for capturing and visualizing astronomical information in science classes, as well as a research/technology strand.

On the first day at the Museum, they were encouraged to brainstorm ideas for space shows, providing answers to the question: If you had your own personal space ship, where would you go on vacation? Why? Their answers included the constellation Orion, Saturn, The Crab Nebula, The Edge of the Universe, Mars, The Asteroid Belt, and Pluto.

Later, they were introduced to Uniview, software that visualizes space data, and were charged with flying from the Earth to the moon, practicing with the software and camera controls.

The Museum's director of astrovisualization, Carter Emmart, modeled a high level tour of the universe using Uniview. The boys were so excited to have access to such sophisticated equipment to explore and study the universe.

The class will spend the next several Fridays working on this unit at the Museum.  In teams of two, they will create a 5-minute, real-time space show, which they will narrate and present to parents at the Planetarium.

What a rich and exciting project for our boys.

Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a thrilling flight!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fifth Grade DNA Scientists in Unit With DNALC

This morning, our fifth graders began their extensive unit of study on DNA through our collaboration with the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

An educator from the DNALC led the session at Saint David's, which was an introduction to the composition of animal cells.

Comparing the cell's production of proteins to the work of a factory, the educator guided the boys in a discussion about the various components of cells, including the factory's "boss" DNA.

The boys then got down to work and built "baggie" models of cells from a variety of ingredients that represented the membrane, DNA, organelles, cytoplasm and nutrients.

This is the second year of our partnership with DNALC, which will include the boys' field visit to the DNALC Lab in Cold Spring Harbor; DNA extraction; and isolation, PCR and gel electrophoresis.

We have also partnered this year with the DNALC for a new unit in the eighth grade, which will begin next month.

Our school partnerships enable our boys to engage with DNA scientists in a series of hands-on learning experiences. Beyond the classroom units like this one inspire our boys to generate ideas as they employ their scientific minds, curiosity and imaginations.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Shakespeare with a Twist

Today, our faculty, always looking to hone and enhance their teaching, engaged in a series of professional development sessions. They also avail of professional development opportunities through a variety of grants the school administers. The following is an article on one such summer grant, which recently appeared in Saint David's Annual Report:

At the Shakespeare Institute

This summer, English Chair Karen Davis and English Teacher Tom Ryan attended an exciting, two-day Shakespeare Institute at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s site in Cold Spring, NY. The “workshops are designed to help teachers make Shakespeare fun and accessible within the classroom. Programs are structured around a Shakespeare text and will enable teachers to integrate theater-based activities into their curriculum in order to engage students with Shakespeare’s stories” (www.hvshakespeare.org).

After completing an introductory speed reading of Macbeth wherein the teachers were assigned roles and given the gist of each scene, they were asked to strike tableau poses depicting the major scenes and capturing the mood during Macbeth’s downfall. From there, improvisation workshops along with practice in stage combat had everyone up and moving in an attempt to gain understanding of the play through physical activities. In addition, workshops on the historical time period and online Shakespeare resources made the days jam packed with information and ideas that can be used to engage students. The final culminating activity infused performance with a mock sales pitch that had the teacher groups breaking down key scenes and analyzing the language, the setting, and the tone at that moment in the play.

Tom Ryan explains how he may incorporate some of the experience in his classes:  “Bringing the Institute back to the classroom is a short trip based on the activities put forth by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s staff. Students, in our case, those studying Romeo and Juliet, can, in a pre-play activity, create story boards, a casting wish list, costume ideas, posters, press releases, and trailers. All these will enable our boys to bring Shakespeare into the twenty-first century, at least as far as taking more ownership of the play and making it more tangible before the reading actually begins.

“Careful attention to the editing/cutting of the play is a skill that will serve all students. Our staff members emphasized editing the play so as to allow the readers to appreciate what Shakespeare was most proud of, his attention to plot, and not merely the long, ancillary passages that provide detail and background but do little with plot progression.

“We were also encouraged to take liberties with the characters, the dress, and the setting of the play. For example, in Macbeth the witches could be manifested in any shape or form. We experimented with multiple witches, rather than the stereotypical three, with each “weird sister” representing one of the seven deadly sins. Imagine reworking the forms, costumes and setting for the Capulets and Montagues!

“These activities, along with many others, afforded us the opportunity to bring Shakespeare into the class in both classical and modern/creative ways.”