Marybeth's Lower Elementary Blog

Thank you for visiting our website! I hope that you find it to be a helpful resource and I'm so glad you made your way to this blog. In my capacity as Director of Lower Elementary Programs here at The Center, I have the good fortune of working with an outstanding faculty and staff, a dedicated board and administrative team, and 240 of the most amazing children you will ever meet. I hope to use this space to highlight their good work, to reflect on teaching and learning, and to pose questions aimed at helping me to improve the experience of all of our students.

Marybeth Heyd
Director of Lower Elementary


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Why do some things never get any easier?


That's my high school locker combination.

Whether it's because I still have dreams that I can't open my locker or because of some strange neural pathways that have been formed in my brain, more than 20 years after graduating from high school, I still know it by heart. However, that does not, as I learned last week, make me in any way able to teach the seemingly simple skill of using a combination lock. Allow me to explain...

The second to last day of school at CEE includes a special ritual called Step-Up Day. Students in grades K-5 spend the final hour of the day visiting the classrooms they'll join in the fall. It's a way to end the year with a little hint of what's to come next, and teachers enjoy the opportunity to meet their new students. I spent some time visiting 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms during Step-Up Day and witnessed everything from cozy gatherings to dance parties:

You may notice that the bottom right picture contains students who seem a little older than 8 or 9, and you're right. My final visit on Step-Up Day was to the 4th floor of Building C, where our rising 6th graders were meeting their new teachers and asking a ton of questions about next year. I spent some time listening to the discussion, because I will be learning alongside them in the fall as I transition to my new role overseeing the Upper Elementary Division. As much as I was learning about the curriculum and expecations from the students and the teachers, it became clear that the biggest step of all was about to take place outside the classroom, in the long 6th grade hallway.

Students watched a riveting YouTube video about opening a locker, reviewed the steps several times with the teachers, and were released to the hall where each locker had a Post-It revealing its combination. And what followed was an excellent reminder about teaching and learning, and how some things never get any easier.

The notions of clockwise and counterclockwise became more relevant than ever in this situation. Precision is key when you're opening a locker; there is no autocorrect that will fill in the number you intended to land on. I saw kids using their right hand to turn the dial to the right, and switch hands to use their left hand to turn it to the left, an interesting (if ineffective) technique. I saw kids for whom things tend to come easily grow unbelievably frustrated, and I saw others whose faces could only be described as ecstatic at the sight of an open locker door. And for me, teaching skills that I drew on to try and help were not always, well, helpful - especially when it became clear after several tries that one student had the wrong combination written on the locker he was trying to open.

The whole scene just reminded me that even though these are our oldest elementary students, about to embark on an academically rigorous and incredibly busy year, they are still kids. I'm not saying that my (hopefully appropriate) anxiety about working with older students was suddenly erased, but it was certainly a good reality check - for me and for them. I have joked with parents that first graders will tell you the hardest thing about leaving Kindergarten is having to climb a big flight of stairs to get to their classrooms. For now, I'd love to think that the kids in the class of 2016 think that the hardest thing about 6th grade will be opening their lockers. 


The other thing that never gets any easier is saying goodbye. It has been a year of celebrating the seven members of our faculty and staff who are retiring, and on the last day of school the celebrations drew to an emotional end. It has become customary for administrators to honor retirees at our end-of-the-year luncheon with parting words and a gift, and retirees in turn share their thoughts as they prepare to start the next phase of their lives. I was so touched by the goodbyes from our "Magnificent Seven," and am grateful to each and every one of them.

Here's to you, Helen, Lisa, Marcella, Keven, Marcia, Faige, and Lois.



Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Sunday June 14 at 03:48PM
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Did your kids come home talking about pirates invading campus?

Well they were right!
The Story Pirates came to CEE earlier this month, and we couldn't have been happier about their takeover of our Community Center.

The Story Pirates are a traveling band of actors who read countless stories submitted by kids from across the country and turn these tales into musical skits which they perform as a troupe. Our 3rd and 4th graders wrote stories for them to consider and they selected four to produce and perform at an assembly of K-4th grade students. 

Here are our proud resident authors with the actors who brought their pieces to life:

Harry (4AB), Ellie (3AB), Daylin (3CD) and Lucas (4CD) wrote stories that ranged from an epic tale of a century-long war to a vignette about friendship, math, and gymnastics. Characters included a cheese-obsessed mummy, a New York City cab driver, and many others - and every story was accompanied by costumes, music, and plenty of jokes. These students had no idea their stories would be performed until the actors announced each act, and the combination of pride, shock, and curiosity were evident on each of their faces as their names were called out. It was so special for their classmates and our younger students to share in their delight, along with their families, who had been invited to join in the fun!

The Story Pirates ended the show by inviting every child who had submitted a story to stand and take a bow - acknowledging their hard work and hopefully inspiring them and their younger peers to truly see themselves as writers. We start talking as early as Kindergarten in Writing Workshop about writing for an audience, and I can't imagine a more amazing example of that than what these our student-authors experienced.

The Story Pirates returned each original story with a handwritten note giving the author authentic praise and constructive criticism - 

In reading these thoughtful notes, any trace of disappointment about their story not being performed disappeared from our kids' faces. They truly appreciated the time and the feedback, which they know are part of the writing process.

We can't wait to welcome the Story Pirates back soon! 

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Friday March 20 at 06:57AM
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What is one of the most powerful learning tools in our Kindergarten program?

Read here to find out!

(I woke up to this story on NPR the other morning and thought - surely I must be dreaming! But a quick search confirmed that I wasn't. It's a great reminder for us - parents of young kids - as we head into parent conferences with questions, hopes, worries, and wishes, that our sophisticated thinkers with seemingly endless devices and apps at their fingertips are at the same time small children who need only the simplest things to make amazing discoveries.)

Block on!

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Friday March 6
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How do we as adults model lifelong learning for our students?

The Center's mission statement calls on us to "strive to graduate students who are joyful, resilient, life-long learners." By modeling life-long learning as adults who are constantly seeking ways to self-improve, we send students the message that what we are teaching them (and how they are learning it) will be relevant and meaningful long after they leave the CEE community.

Yesterday we had two great examples of adults engaged in collaborative learning here on campus. At lunchtime, we offered three sessions of a new onsite PD model that Lois and I learned about at this year's ERB conference. Our peers at The Willows presented about different approaches to gathering faculty and staff for trainings, book clubs, and other professional development opportunities that don't involve travel or outside speakers. Instead, they provide lunch to participants and start small, centering perhaps around an article found on social media, a new iPad app, or a TED Talk. We loved the idea of providing a forum for a rich discussion that included a wide cross-section of employees, and so yesterday we borrowed the TED Talk concept. 

Around 60 faculty, staff, and administrative team members signed up for one of three time slots and over lunch, we watched this video about art, creativity, and limitations. We are fortunate enough to be experiencing another full day of learning together at an inservice at The Getty Center in a few weeks, and so the video got us thinking and talking about the creative process. Our hope is that the seeds of thought that were planted during the sessions yesterday will yield far more meaningful discoveries as we explore one of our city's most treasured cultural resources.

Later yesterday evening, I had the privilege of hosting a grade level meeting for Kindergarten parents. These nights are a hallmark of the parent education program that that is such a vital part of a family's experience at CEE. My hope is that the home-school partnership is strengthened at these meetings, during which I share the strengths and challenges of a particular class in the context of child development, and of the philosophy of our pedagogical approach at that grade level. Last night was my first time meeting with this particular group of parents, and I was so struck by their commitment not only to an excellent education for their children, but to a deep and trusting relationship with one another. After learning about typical kindergarten behaviors, parents spoke openly and honestly about struggles and triumphs, sharing strategies and commiserating (in a loving way!) about the highs and lows of parenting a 5 or 6 year old. The palpable connection between these adults bodes so well for their children, who can surely lean on one another the same way their parents have allowed themselves to do. My hope is that the gathering instilled confidence in parents while simultaneously alleviating anxiety - a tall order, no doubt! But between our outstanding classroom teachers, our school psychologist, and one another, these parents have incredible resources right at their fingertips.

I feel so fortunate to be part of a community of adults who are committed to continuing to grow and learn alongside our children.


Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Wednesday February 4 at 04:23PM
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Hashtags and Happy Holidays!

Season's Greetings!

One of my new year's resolutions at the beginning of 2014 was to expand my professional learning network using different social media like Twitter. As I look back on the year, I am struck by the way spending just a bit of time poking around the Twitterverse has expanded my horizons and introduced me to individuals and ideas I would have otherwise perhaps not encountered.

One such example is #NoOfficeDay. I recently spent an entire day, as the hashtag suggests, away from my office. In preparation for a developmental meeting with parents, I had the opportunity to spend December 1st with second graders - in class, at recess, at specialists, and at lunch. It was a fantastic day and it gave me such an important peek into the day-to-day lives of our 7-and 8-year olds. It is my goal to have one such day for each developmental meeting this year, and I found some great articles and resources on Twitter about principals, superintendants, and other administrators who had taken a #NoOfficeDay for themselves.

During the week of December 8th, students at CEE participated in the #HourOfCode. This international movement began as a way to get students interested in computer programming, and after several classrooms participated last year, we hoped to have even more students writing even more code this year. Across ages, grades, devices, and programs, our kids busily wrote hundreds and hundreds of lines of code that week, and many were inspired to continue doing so on their own time. My Twitter feed that week was full of photos, blog posts, and videos like this - all celebrating the power of young people learning (and teaching!) code. 

I hope that as 2014 draws to a close, you have some time to reflect on the year and all that it has brought you. I am particularly grateful to have started off the new year with the arrival of my son Archie, whose development over this year has served as a daily reminder of how quickly time goes, and of how much children grow in the blink of an eye. 

I wish you all a peaceful holiday season and all the very best for a happy and healthy new year in 2015.



Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Monday December 22, 2014 at 04:46PM
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How do you make something good even better?

Betterment is a perpetual labor. The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing and medicine is nowhere spared that reality. To complicate matters, we in medicine are also only humans ourselves. We are distractible, weak, and given to our own concerns. Yet still, to live as a doctor is to live so that one's life is bound up in others' and in science and in the messy, complicated connection between the two. It is to live a life of responsibility. The question, then, is not whether one accepts the responsibility. Just by doing this work, one has. The question is, having accepted the responsibility, how one does such work well.

This quote is hanging in my office, with a few minor changes to it. I have replaced "medicine" with "education," "doctor" with "teacher," and "science," with "learning." It comes from the book Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. In it, Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a Harvard professor, talks about the need to advance, refine, and improve in the field of medicine. There are so many parallels to be found in education, and at CEE we are constantly looking for ways to get better, through both diligence and ingenuity, as Gawande describes throughout the book.

A few weeks ago, my fellow program administrators Tashon McKeithan and Lois Levy and I had the privilege of embarking on, fittingly enough, instructional rounds. Modeled after medical rounds in hospitals, instructional rounds are a combination of classroom observation with professional development for educators in schools. We spent an entire day observing math classes, looking through the lens of the instructional core, which consists of the teacher, the students, and the content. From the Early Childhood program through 6th grade, the continuum of learning was clear, with evidence of strong mathematical thinking at every stage. In addition to the framework of the rounds, we relied on the philosophy of math instruction as articulated in our Curriculum Digest, which also describes the four pillars that support CEE's math teaching: number sense, operations, visual thinking, and problem-solving. It was a fascinating day and it felt good to be able to give teachers clear, specific, non-evaluative feedback about what we saw; they in turn appreciated our effort to be innovative as administrators in order to model our expectations for them to do the same. 




Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Wednesday November 26, 2014
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When do we get to try it?

I love getting calls from the teachers in the Lower Elementary Division that go something along the lines of:
"You've got to come see what the kids are doing!"

Needless to say, when I get those calls, I rush straight out of my office and make my way to the classroom at hand. 

Today when I got that call I found myself in second grade where two friends were playing with an Osmo (pictured to the left). To see a great quick video about what an Osmo is and what it does, click here. These fellas were playing a sort of hangman game that combined a virtual piece on the iPad with letter tiles that they had in front of them - the game was challenging and fast-paced but appropriate, and kept them engaged and excited.

The best part about watching these two guys play is that it was truly an interactive, collaborative experience for them. The technology was astounding but it was more than bells and whistles - it was a thoughtful tool that that combined the best of old school word games and digital learning. What that meant is that these boys communicated effectively and problem-solved as a team, tapping into those twenty-first century skills that we work so hard to instill in our students. 

As the boys played, their quick actions and lively conversations drew curious classmates in for a closer look. Within minutes, kids were asking that question that you hope to hear as a teacher who has introduced something new: When do we get to try it?


Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Thursday November 6, 2014 at 04:28PM
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What is everyone at CEE reading?

See for yourself!

As you walk around campus here at The Center, you may notice signs hanging outside of classrooms, on office doors, and above teachers' desks. These "Such-and-such is reading..." signs are meant to spark discussions, initiate book recommendations, and demonstrate to our students that as adults, we are a community of readers. From classroom teachers to specialists, staff to administrators, those who hang their signs up are extending an invitation to engage in dialogue, and are communicating the clear message that readers and reading are welcome, not just at the library or during language arts class, but throughout the school and throughout the day.

Come on by and ask us about what we're reading!

Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Friday October 3, 2014
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What is the best way of showing how well you have learned something?

Many would answer: by teaching it to someone else. Having students teach someone - a peer, a parent, a brother or sister - a lesson they have learned is a wonderful way of assessing their own understanding of the topic, concept, or skill at hand. It is a meaningful exercise that not only causes students to think about what they learned and how, but about empathy as well. To put themselves in the shoes of the person being taught forces students to be aware of how others learn, stretching their thinking and calling on their creativity and communication skills. I'm reminded of a quote from a book I'm reading called What Readers Really Do. The authors are actually talking about math instruction rather than literacy when they make the point:

Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need to both know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it. Then, they need to take each mind from not getting it to mastery. And they need to do this in 45 minutes or less. 

Recently, we asked a handful of second graders to put themselves in the shoes of their teachers and give them a lesson on the math app Dreambox. These students had been introduced to this app last year in first grade and were among its top users over the summer. Rather than simply telling the four second grade teachers to check the app out in the hopes that they would want to incorporate it into their math homework, we thought it would be more meaningful to have the students show them how the app works, share what they like about it, and discuss what they would change if they could. For 30 minutes, the classroom was alive with conversation, a blend of curious questions from the very impressed adult pupils with the confident guidance and assurances of their very capable 7-and 8-year old instructors.

I have the feeling this was a lesson that neither the teachers nor their students will ever forget! 


Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Sunday September 28, 2014
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How do you ring in the new school year?

With a bell, of course!
Every Monday morning at assembly we welcome the week with a moment of quiet reflection as teachers and/or students ring a singing bowl, the tones resonating throughout the community center. It is a peaceful and calm way to start off each week, and our hope is that students carry a small piece of that feeling with them into their classrooms and play yards. Here Martine, one of our fabulous PE teachers, can be seen bringing the bowl to the very first Monday morning assembly of the year.
Posted by Marybeth.Heyd on Thursday September 18, 2014
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