Critical –thinking discussions drive mathematical learning at Congressional School

Janet Marsh, Congressional School head of school, shares insights into what her school has to offer.

congressional school
Photo courtesy of Congressional School

What are some new course offerings or programs at your school that have been successful?

Congressional adopted the Singapore Math program for students in kindergarten through sixth grade to enhance their critical-thinking skills, breadth of understanding and problem-solving skills by taking students from concrete to pictorial to abstract learning styles. With this solid foundation, our students are better equipped for future success in higher level math classes.

Number Talks has been widely embraced in our primary and lower school grades. These quick sessions engage the whole class in discussion about math. Students enjoy collaborating on strategies to solve problems, share ideas and explain their methodology while realizing there’s more than one [way] to tackle a problem.

In all grades, students are reading and writing, engaging in word study and studying the basic grammatical elements. We turn to research-based strategies such as the Columbia University’s Reading & Writing Project to ensure our students in first through fourth grade are confident readers and skilled writers. Middle school language arts teachers keep closely networked with their peers and tuned into the work of educational leaders such as Nancie Atwell, founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Our middle school electives program provides students with a choice of a broad range of experiences and allows for concentrations in different areas of study. Topics include robotics, engineering and design, broadcast journalism, technical theater, music composition and mixed media, to name just a few. This year we also introduced a financial literacy class as a core elective in middle school, recognizing the importance of equipping students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in all areas of life.

congressional school
Photo courtesy of Congressional School

Through our Service Learning program, we challenge students to identify, research, propose and implement solutions to real needs in their school or community. Sustainability is our theme, and we often capitalize on the many natural resources available on our 40-acre campus.

Coding at Congressional begins as early as kindergarten. When writing code, students have to think both critically and creatively to tell a robot what motions to fulfill and also have to ensure the code is correct. This process encourages students to persevere, problem-solve and collaborate. These concepts progress in complexity through the grades, and in middle school students have the opportunity to take choice electives in design, engineering and robotics.

Congressional’s teachers employ an intentional student-centered approach as part of our academic, social and emotional curricula. Our small class sizes allow teachers to get to know and understand each child, and as a result, our students feel supported and safe in their learning environment. In middle school morning advisory, students build relationships, work on social skills and begin their day on a positive note with a fun social activity. As a result, students are comfortable stepping out of the box, taking risks and leaning into challenges while employing a growth mindset.

How has the school culture changed and evolved over the past 10 years or so?

We have made an intentional pedagogical shift to a learning environment that is based on guided exploration around defined learning targets. Our focus is not on memorization of facts but application of knowledge, which gives students a broad, deep and long-lasting education. We’ve shifted from a one-size-fits-all approach to an individualized learning environment that recognizes and celebrates each student’s unique learning style, strengths and growth opportunities.

How have the needs of students changed over the past decade?

Although the world has changed, children’s fundamental needs have not changed. Children still need love, trust, strong friendships and a safe learning environment. Our vision is to prepare students to be great thinkers and leaders who will positively impact their world. As we work to realize that vision, we are focused on fostering students’ curiosity and creativity and empowering them as strong communicators, collaborators and critical thinkers. Children today also need to know how to navigate a 24/7 culture and be equipped to adapt to the many new ways to communicate.

How does Congressional School uniquely serve its students?

Walk through Congressional’s campus and you will see students out of their seats, moving around the classroom, completely engaged and absorbed in learning. You’ll see a learning environment that is 100 percent student-centered, with teachers guiding students, asking them thought-provoking questions and helping them discover answers for themselves.

You’ll see that students aren’t simply acquiring knowledge; they are applying it and thereby gaining a deep, long-lasting level of understanding.

Our researched-based curriculum is delivered with an individualized approach. We recognize that not all students learn at the same pace, and we make sure that every student is challenged at a level that is just right for them. We utilize our campus, seizing every opportunity to take lessons outside. We are known for our welcoming and caring community. Our diverse student body represents a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, and we embrace them all.

(November 2017)