Ross School’s Field Academy offers students and faculty the opportunity to work intensively on group projects through coursework that can occur on campus or in destinations around the world. Among this year’s courses available to middle school students is an excursion to Morocco, offering students a unique opportunity to connect to their classroom content. Over 10 days, students and faculty will explore Morocco’s rich history and culture, as well as become familiar with contemporary issues affecting the North African country.Read More
On December 6, 2017, Ross 10th graders celebrated the end of their unit on the Enlightenment by hosting a salon, a style of gathering popularized in the 18th century in which intellectuals and philosophers came together to discuss their theories and ideas.Read More
Following a trimester-long comprehensive study of medieval Islamic society, eighth grade students demonstrated what they learned at Ross’s annual Islamic Banquet. For the past 12 years, Ross School has held this event, allowing students to experience and share the culture they’ve studied with the student body.Read More
Under the direction of Performing Arts teacher Gerard Doyle, students learned about and practiced Aristotelian elements of drama to perform and bring to life Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis. Antigone tells the story of a woman so committed to preserving her brother’s memory that she defies the king in order to bury him with dignity. Iphigenia in Aulis details Agamemnon’s tortured decision to sacrifice his eldest daughter to the gods on the eve of his war with Troy. Both plays feature timeless themes of civil disobedience, sense of duty, and familial loyalty.
According to sixth grade teacher Deborah Minutello-Bartlett, the students recognized and connected with the playwrights’ depiction of empowered female characters, and they enjoyed exploring the components of producing a theatrical performance, including sewing their own costumes.
Ross fourth graders are currently engaged in a study of early human life, focusing on human migration and its implications on cultural expression and diversity. Though Ross’s integrated curriculum, the students examine the material through multiple domains, including English, Math, Science, Cultural History, Media Studies and Technology, and Visual Arts. This comprehensive, integrated approach deepens their understanding of early human society and its impact on later generations.
Students began by examining nonverbal communication forms like storytelling and pictograms, as well as exploring Neolithic social systems, lifestyles, and rituals. They then created migration journals for fictional characters who would have lived between 10,000 and 3,500 BCE. Their illustrated works will be displayed at Hampton Library in Bridgehampton during the 24th Annual Budding Authors Reception next month.
After investigating different nomadic cultures and the development of permanent settlements, students are in the process of creating documentary film stories to convey what they’ve learned. They have collected research, acquired art and images, and are preparing voice-over scripts and storyboards to structure their videos. Informing their work is a science project in which students simulate the process of an archaeological excavation, digging, cataloging, and analyzing their findings just as archaeologists do when studying ancient settlements.
Students are also applying math and technology studies to their exploration of neolithic culture. They are using what they learn about polygonal shapes to design blueprints for their settlements. After mapping out the general layout of the settlement, students practice calculating the area and perimeter of each geometric figure in their space. These blueprints serve as the basis for models of their settlements, which they are creating both with analog media (such as paint and clay) and digital tools (like Google Sketch-Up—a standard program used in building industries). Ultimately, pieces of their designs will be 3D-printed for presentation.
The students will present what they’ve learned from their unit at an all-school assembly at Ross Lower School on April 4 at 1:30pm.
After completing a 12-week-long comprehensive study of medieval Islamic society, eighth grade students demonstrated what they learned at Ross’s annual Islamic Banquet, a full-day event in which students put themselves in the shoes of the people and culture they’ve studied. As part of Ross School’s Spiral Curriculum, which emphasizes integrated learning across all domains, the Golden Age of Islam unit focuses on a rich medieval world comprising refined achievements in art, science, the humanities, and technology, as well as the time period’s and culture’s lasting influence.
In Cultural History, students explored pre-Islamic tribal society, religion, and sociopolitical and economic structures. They learned about the life of Muhammad, the birth of Islam and Muhammad’s successors, and the schism that created the Sunni-Shi’a split. They also studied readings and media to become informed about contemporary events in the Islamic world and issues facing Muslims.
An interactive learning experience required students to assume the identity of a Muslim luminary of that era and craft a historical memoir. During the Islamic Banquet, students then staged a series of press conferences in character, in which they answered questions about their characters’ lives and legacies.
Students’ presentations were also informed by their studies in Science, for which they delved into astronomy before the invention of the telescope, as well as the work of medieval Islamic alchemists, whose controlled experimentation with the transmutation of metals, precise observation, alchemical notation, and careful data documentation served as a precursor to the scientific method.
The Wellness unit integrated with their Golden Age of Islam studies led the eighth graders to examine significant advancements made in health, hygiene, diet, medicine, leisure, and sport during the time period, driven by prophetic statements from Islamic religious texts. They created a medieval Islam herbal and nutritional medicine guide using their knowledge of the era’s predominantly plant-based diet and halal principles, actions and objects that are permissible according to Islamic law. In addition, students learned about social health and the destructive societal effects of stereotyping and religious persecution.
To further reflect the culture of their objects of study, students re-enacted the Muslim tradition of performing the salat, traditional Islamic prayers offered five times a day, during the Islamic Banquet. They also practiced Sufi whirling, a rhythmic form of meditation, led by Director of Teacher Development and Certification Debra McCall. Later, students engaged in enduring leisure activities from the Golden Age of Islam by playing tournaments of games like checkers, chess, and backgammon.
A much-anticipated highlight of the Islamic Banquet each year, and one shared by the whole Upper School, is a Middle Eastern–themed feast prepared by the Ross Café. This year’s menu consisted of jannanayya, a 13th century western soup from Andalusia; a shaved fennel and artichoke salad; lamb kofta; chickpea tagine; saffron rice; and cauliflower frittata with Andalusian tomato vinaigrette. A dessert buffet included Mediterranean treats like honey rosewater cake, figs, dates, and blood oranges. The meal was augmented by a slideshow of artwork produced in the students’ Visual Arts class. After studying the work of Cindy Sherman and Shirin Neshat, female artists who are renowned for their ability to reference identity in the context of culture, students created photographic statements reflecting their own personal beliefs, supplementing photography with calligraphy and elements of graphic design while thoughtfully exploring the contrasts between medieval and contemporary, East and West, and concepts of “self” and “other.”
The challenges of looking deep into the origins of a religion and culture that are often the subject of controversy in today’s society did not go unremarked. Mark Tompkins, eighth grade team leader, reminded the students, “You had the courage to spend 12 weeks learning about what mainstream culture has defined as an other.” He further explained that, as valued leaders of the future, just as the four commandments of the Quran teach, students should strive to keep faith, work for justice, seek truth, and practice patience.
The activities were well received by the faculty and students, who value the integrated and in-depth educational approach as inestimably beneficial to students and society at large. “It was an inspiring day,” said Dan Roe, an alumnus who also works for the Media department of the school. “This is the education everyone should get.”
Debra, who has spent decades with Ross School in various roles, agrees: “I hope we don’t look back on this day as a rare moment,” she said, “but one that thrives and endures.”
Click here to see photos of the Eighth Grade Islamic Banquet.
This week, Ross School students marked the beginning of Chinese New Year, a widely celebrated holiday in countries with significant Chinese populations. Special events on both the Lower and Upper School campuses invited all to welcome the start of the Year of the Rooster.
On Monday, January 30, 42 boarding students from the Upper School, all of whom are participants in Ross School’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, visited the Lower School campus in Bridgehampton to teach the young students about aspects of their culture. Among the activities the Upper School students shared were paper-cutting, a Chinese folk art dating back to the second century; zhezhi, or paper folding; Cat’s Cradle, a game involving a single string figure; and how to write the young students’ names in Chinese characters.
According to Lower School Mandarin teacher Xi Chen, though Lower School students begin their study of Mandarin as early as kindergarten, the exchange presented an unparalleled opportunity for them to receive one-on-one instruction from native speakers. “These students have learned their names in Mandarin, but the level of personal instruction they’ve gotten today is [really inspiring],” Xi said. “For many of them, they’ve interacted with more native Mandarin speakers today than in their lifetimes.”
Although the majority of the students visiting the Lower School were Chinese, students from countries like Brazil, India, Korea, and Russia also shared their countries’ New Year’s celebrations. Tenth grader Padma Devella shared details about the Indian holiday Ugadi, while others talked about the festival of Carnival and the figures associated with Russia’s holiday celebrations.
During a community assembly, Lower School students from every grade level commemorated the Lunar New Year with performances that ranged from a puppet show detailing the mythical start of the Chinese zodiac to a kung fu demonstration and intricate lion and dragon dances. Upper School students Amanda Ding, Alice Wang, Jessica Liu, and Bella Yang closed the assembly by performing two songs—one in Mandarin and the other an English-language pop song.
Mami Takeda, Ross School’s ESOL coordinator, explained that although this is the school’s first attempt at an exchange of this type, the hope is that it will become an ongoing tradition. “Today is a freezing day,” student Jayden Jing said during the assembly. “But we feel the warmth of everyone at the Lower School today. Thank you for celebrating the New Year with us.”
The Upper School campus celebrated Chinese New Year on Tuesday, January 31. Students in Levi Stribling and Lydia Qiu’s levels two and three Mandarin courses began their day by making pork and vegetarian dumplings to share during Ross Café’s themed lunch. The activity also served as a cultural introduction to dining practices in China, with students learning the proper way to serve a communal Chinese meal and the correct technique for using chopsticks.
At a later assembly, students learned about the history and significance of Chinese New Year, and were treated to performances by their classmates. Selena Hu played the song “Gold Snake Dance” on the guzheng, a plucked string instrument, and Qisen Hong sang the song “Miss Dong” by Song Dongye.
Ross Lower School parents and families were welcomed to campus Tuesday evening for Back-to-School Night. The annual event offers an opportunity for parents to become acquainted with their children’s teachers and to gain a better understanding of what students are learning in their classes.
The curricular theme for this academic year is Activating Future Memory, and students’ first assignments implementing the theme resulted in an exhibition presented in the Lower School Multi-Purpose Room. In every grade level, students were asked to envision an aspect of the future 20 years from now; in turn, parents were encouraged to present their own version of the future, which was then displayed for comparison alongside the student work.
Inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes, fifth grade students authored poetry about their future dreams. Gymnast Delani B. wrote about her ambitions to represent the United States on the women’s gymnastics team, while avid reader Cameron M. wrote about his love of literature.
Students in the sixth grade were asked to create products that may be necessary in 20 years. Science enthusiast Tucker S. considered global overpopulation and designed a Lego prototype of a single-family home that could be used in the event humans have to colonize other planets.
“I knew it would be something involving space because space travel will be bigger,” Tucker said of his inspiration. I thought about the movie The Martian, and I wondered, ‘What if that could be reality?’” Tucker’s model home features an airlock, a communications room to interact with those on Earth, and a compact rocket that travels at 45 times the speed of light.
Scarlett G. designed a playground that would safely inspire children to be adventurous. It would include a swing set with a safety harness so that children could swing 360 degrees, a shape-shifting slide, and a basketball court with floating hoops.
Other grade-level assignments including creating future products, animals, and transportation, as well as creating Google doodles to represent the future.
“We had a lot of fun with this project because our parents were also active participants in it,” said Head of Lower School Jeanette Tyndall. “Thinking of the future requires imagination. We want our students to be constantly thinking of the future and dreaming big dreams, because those dreams can inspire ideas that could end up changing people's lives.”
Ross School seventh graders recently wrapped up their unit on Maya people and culture with a celebration featuring presentations, games, and traditional foods. The students have been learning about the Maya as part of their studies of the rise of empires and universalizing religions from 350 BCE to 800 CE.
The day began with a rousing game of Maya Ball in Gandhi Hall, where the Passion Pyre faced off against Quetzalquan. The competition helped set the fun atmosphere for the remainder of the day, and was slightly less intense than the original version, which often ended with the death of the losing team as a ritual sacrifice.
Then it was back to the classroom for “Maya Math” games for which the students created their own abacus bracelets. They also worked on an art project with Visual Arts teacher Jon Mulhern, collecting rocks and twigs from around the campus and then pressing them into plaster to represent their birthdates.
A big part of the day was dedicated to the individual presentations of a creative project related to the Maya unit. Some focused on Maya architecture and artwork, including the Bonampak murals (three rooms in one temple). Each room tells the story of a king, his success in battle, and the sacrificial celebration that follows the battle. One student imagined what a fourth room would look like. Others built a replica of a trading post, made a delicious flan inspired by Maya cuisine, created a goddess mask, or focused on the Maya codices. All the student projects were impressive and the students really showed an appreciation for their studies. Each student proposed a question related to his or her presentation that will be included in the Maya unit final assessment.
Another fun Maya Day project was preparing hot chocolate made with stewed bananas and cacao beans. Jon showed the class how to use a metate to grind the beans, a process he was able to see firsthand on the Field Academy trip to Brazil last year. This year, many in the class will be traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula during Field Academy, and everyone is excited to see the traditional practice in action.
At lunch in the Café, the class enjoyed the authentic tamales and other delicacies they made the day before with guidance from Executive Chef Liz Dobbs. Tamales also served as the main entrée for the meal for the rest of the school, and the Café was decorated with the seventh graders’ personal glyphs, which are creative expressions of their given names.
Maya Day ended with a lively game of Maya Jeopardy!, covering a wide range of topics from goddesses to rituals, which allowed students to demonstrate the depth of their knowledge of Maya culture.
“Through their creative projects and activities, the students really connected to their studies and gained an important foundation for their Field Academy trip to Mexico,” said seventh grade teacher Carol Crane.
Ross School fourth graders recently participated in a hands-on primitive survival skills workshop to complement their studies of early human communities and culture. Jeffrey Gottlieb, a naturalist and primitive technology and skills expert, led the activities. Using materials like those used by our Paleolithic ancestors in their daily lives, students drilled shale beads with a flint stone drill, created cordage and rope from natural plant fibers, used a friction bow fire drill to create fire, and practiced flint-knapping to make tools.
Jeffrey kicked off the day with a review of the timeline of human physical and cultural evolution, pointing out important developments such as the emergence of the first “power tool,” the Acheulean hand axe. He then gathered the students in a circle to display and discuss items from his personal collection of natural materials, historic artifacts, and replicas.
Students also received a history lesson about Long Island as Jeffrey held up flint and quartz while explaining that a glacier deposited most of the rocks we see locally today. They were excited to handle a Celt stone hammer that Jeffrey made using a local stone.
As the class worked on their primitive projects, Jeffrey shared other interesting information about the habits and behaviors of early humans and how they utilized the tools the students were making. As a naturalist, he was able to point to his own skills and experiences for a firsthand perspective on how our ancestors made clothes, tanned animal pelts, and built shelter (Jeffrey has been building wigwams for years).
Fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine said the students enjoyed learning with Jeffrey: “The workshop was an entertaining, educational experience for the students, and offered a deeper perspective on what our ancestors went through to survive and thrive.”
As a fourth grade teacher and Cultural History coordinator for Ross Lower School, Alicia Schordine helps bring the studies of early human societies to life for the students and community. School News recently talked with Alicia about the eventful school year and the most recent collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation on a traditional Native American garden.
Tell us about your role at Ross School.
I teach fourth grade and also work closely with the Lower School teachers to enrich the Ross Cultural History curriculum.
The fourth grade curriculum includes the study of early settlements and social systems, and the information about these periods is often the result of experimental research, because there was no recognizable written record for thousands of years. So we approach our studies as archaeologists, and we get “hands on” to bring history to life. For example, we had subject experts in survival skills and Native American flute making work with the students in the classroom to help them fashion their own primitive tools and instruments.
Another fourth grade tradition is the “clan baby” exercise, during which students care for an egg in teams to learn about how a society works together to feed, protect, celebrate, and mourn the precious young that represent the future of their community.
Most recently, we celebrated the Green Corn Festival, which was the beautiful culmination of our studies of the Native American tribes and culture and a collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation on the new Native American garden at Lower School.
These are impactful experiences, and I’m always impressed with the students’ passion for the work.
You recently received the Courtney Sale Ross Award for your achievements. Tell us about your research.
I’m humbled to receive the award, and I’m grateful to Ross School for providing me with wonderful opportunities to advance my knowledge and skills as an educator. This past year, as a result of the Ross Parents Association Faculty Innovation Grant, I participated in National Geographic’s Genographic Project and an online course through Oxford University in England titled “Ritual and Religion in Prehistory.”
Both were opportunities to dive deeper into the Ross School subject matter. The Oxford course was particularly interesting because my classmates approached the materials from the perspective of their own professions, including archaeology, philosophy, and religious ministry. For my part, I discussed methods to take the complex and mature content and boil it down to have meaning for nine- and ten-year-olds. I also gained access to international resources that continue to enhance our classroom experience, such as documents on burial rituals or the history of Stonehenge.
I shared a lot of this new knowledge, including my own database, to enhance the Ross Learning System and teacher resources for both Upper and Lower School.
This past spring, I also travelled to Cahokia, Illinois, and climbed Monk’s Mound, the largest human-made earthen mound in North America. I was able to incorporate this experience as well as the documentary from the site’s museum into classroom discussions of ancient burial mounds.
How have the students responded to the classroom studies?
It’s been a wonderful year, and I am always so thrilled to be part of sharing our important history with the students. My class really took to the spiritual aspect of their studies and surprised me every day with the depth of their understanding and the connections they make to the modern world around them. For example, on the bus ride to the Suffolk County Archaeological Association’s Museum of Archaeology and History for a recent trip, they saw a mound, and it inspired comments about Cahokia.
The concept of community, too, was big. We spent an entire year talking about how difficult it was to just survive, and it gave us appreciation for the amazing legacy left for all of us.
The lessons were also personal. The boys drew connections to the males’ critical position in the clans as providers and defenders. For the girls, the discussion of matristic societies was especially significant. In the end, I think the knowledge will help them grow into confident, self-aware young adults.
Tell us about the collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation.
Ross School has shared a close relationship with the Shinnecock Nation for many years. As a result, we are so fortunate to have members from the Shinnecock Museum, as well as our students and alumni who live on the reservation, contribute to our studies.
Earlier in the year, the students studied the ancient Mississippian tribes, and then progressed to the Iroquois and Algonquin, and finally the related history and culture of the Shinnecock Nation.
To wrap up the year, Shinnecock historians first visited the classroom to talk about the their ancestors, including their reverence for nature, customs, food, shelter, and medicinal herbs. Then elders blessed our garden, and we closed with the Green Corn Festival on June 17. It was a perfect ending to our year of Native American studies. The day was beautiful, and the students and Shinnecock drummers and dancers helped tell the story of their people.
What’s next for your summer?
Through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I’ll be studying the Hopewell Indian heritage onsite in Ohio at the Newark Earthworks, Fort Ancient, and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. I’m really looking forward to bringing the history and adventure home to my class and the Ross community in September.
On June 11, visitors to Ross School third grade’s “wax museum” traveled back in time to learn about early humans and pivotal historical discoveries. The exhibits traced the evolution of life on Earth, with students portraying their ancestors in native environments.
At the start of the tour, spectators met Australopithecus, the first human to walk on two feet; paleontologist Mary Leakey, who is credited with finding Australopithecus footprints at Laetoli in Tanzania; and Homo habilis, the first hominid to build shelter. Next, they encountered Homo erectus, first upright humans to control fire for cooking and use advanced stone tools; Cro-Magnons, the oldest known modern humans in Europe; Homo sapiens, creators of some of the first discovered cave paintings honoring animal spirits; and the Neanderthal, who lived in Western Europe and Asia during the Ice Age.
The tour was fascinating and fun, and the exhibits had an authentic feel, similar to those of a professional history museum. The students’ scripts, sets, costumes, and props helped tell the story, and there was constant action—from Ms. Leakey excitedly examining her mold of the footprints, to hominids returning from the hunt or sharing news around the fire.
“The time periods often blend together when we think of early man, but there are very important and distinct steps in the evolutionary process that happened over millions of years,” said third grade teacher Meghan Hillen. “The class did a superb job of defining our history.”
There’s a beautiful new tradition in the making at Ross Lower School. Earlier this week, fourth graders “broke ground” to create a Native American garden in the field outside the Green Building. Members of the Shinnecock Nation, including Ross students Chelsea and Kendall Coard, as well as alumni Andrina Smith and Cholena Smith, and Cholena's father Gerrod, performed a traditional Native American ceremony to bless the Earth and give thanks for the coming harvest.
After a blessing from Gerrod, the Shinnecock each held a handful of ceremonial tobacco up to the sky, giving thanks as they turned to face the four corners of the Earth before sprinkling the tobacco in the new garden. Cholena then led the students in a traditional dance and song of thanks as they made their way in a circle around the garden.
Andrina also took the opportunity to express thanks for the special relationship between the School and the Shinnecock Nation. To celebrate this collaboration, a Green Corn Festival will be held at the Lower School on June 17. The event, open to all in the community, will feature Native American dancers and drummers, traditional games, beading, food, and storytelling.
As the students mingled around the garden, they explained that they first planted the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), and plan to add indigenous healing herbs and culinary plants. “This garden represents the symbiotic relationship Native American peoples have with the Earth, and will eventually lead to a garden exchange program between the School and the Shinnecock Museum,” fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine said.
The garden holds important meaning to the fourth graders. This past year, they studied pre-Columbian Native American history, discussing local indigenous tribes, specifically Shinnecock, and the Iroquois confederacy. They learned about communities, rituals, shelters, and customs, as well as sustainability in Native American culture.
Leading up to the planting and blessing, Gerrod and Cholena visited with the students to share their own stories of the Shinnecock Indians, including rites of passage, ceremonial dances, and the evolution of crops for food and medicine. Gerrod discussed the spiritual connection the tribes maintain with nature and the circle of life, noting the respect the tribes showed to the animals they hunted as sources of food and shelter.
Clearly a gifted historian and storyteller, Gerrod asked the students to think about their ancestors sitting around a campsite. With no stores, schools, or electricity, everything had to be made from natural resources gathered in the wild. They gave offerings, such as tobacco, for plants and animals as a sign of their reverence so the harvest and wildlife would continue to return to them.
“Eventually we saved seeds, and the three sisters were the first types of crops to be cultivated,” he said. From them, different habits and plants emerged. “That’s where you all are at with your new garden. You’re helping to tell the story of life and rebirth.”
He also discussed medicinal plants such as wintergreen, which is used to ease toothaches, and certain tree bark that is boiled to make a tea to soothe a sore throat.
Cholena talked about life on the reservation and particular dances that she herself performs for ceremonies and festivals. For example, this month, the Shinnecock will celebrate the strawberry harvest with a day of dancing and sharing of foods such as strawberry pie and pastries. “There are so many things that happen because of this little piece of red fruit,” she said with a smile.
“We’ve all enjoyed the recent events that have strengthened our ties to the Shinnecock Nation,” Alicia said, “and we’re looking forward to celebrating at Ross School’s first annual Green Corn Festival next week!”
Sometimes a musical instrument is more than just entertainment. As part of their studies of the ancient Mississippian and Iroquois tribes in Cultural History class, Ross fourth graders are discovering that the tribes not only used flutes in their rituals and celebrations, but also used them for herding animals. To learn more about one of the first instruments to be invented, the class recently completed a flute-making workshop with local musician and flute maker Jay Loomis and then demonstrated their creations for their schoolmates in a Lower School assembly.
Jay has been making flutes for about 10 years, and he said he enjoys visiting with Ross students to share his knowledge of the Native American instrument and its history. To get started, the students first decided what shape and size their flute would be. The design affects the sound; for example, a long flute will make low noises. They also decorated the instruments with shapes and icons, such as an eagle, with beads pressed into beeswax.
The flutes themselves were made from Japanese knotweed, a pervasive plant disliked by gardeners, but perfect for Jay’s needs because it’s already hollow. Students used sandpaper to smooth out holes that Jay had started for them. He next encouraged the class to experiment to get used to the unique sound of their instruments, and then work together to define a tune.
As part of the performance, the class introduced the audience to the different sounds of their flutes, each playing a few notes in turn. Then it was time for the real fun, with several students playing solos of well-known favorites or original songs as a group.
After the concert, the fourth graders answered questions about the flute-making process. Jay also brought along a diverse collection of flutes from Japan, China, Peru, and Ireland, and played each to demonstrate their beautiful, exotic sounds. The fourth grade specifically requested a rousing Irish melody, and the crowd stomped their feet in time with the beat.
“It adds so much to the students’ experiences when they get ‘hands on’ with their studies. They really got a feel for the historical significance of the flute in the lives of Native Americans,” fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine said.
As part of their studies of evolution of life on Earth, Ross third graders recently recreated one of the most important archeological finds in helping us understand the origins of humans—an 88-foot-long trail of footprints that was fossilized 3.6 million years ago at a volcanic site in Laetoli, Tanzania.
To prepare, students first learned that in 1978 renowned paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey uncovered two sets of prints created by Australopithecus afarensis. This species of hominid was bipedal (walked on two feet) and moved with a heel-toe stride like we do today.
Working in the sandbox at the Lower School, classmates walked in the sand to create a footprint trail like that at Laetoli. The third grade archaeologists then made casts of the footprints using plaster. The class integrated mathematics skills to measure the distance between the footprints, recreating the methods used to prove that the hominids were bipedal and to study the physiology of their legs. Later in the day, students excavated the casts and cleaned them in the classroom lab.
“This was a significant undertaking for the students that involved a knowledge of archaeology, precise field and lab work, and documentation of their findings,” said Meghan Hillen, third grade teacher. “Ultimately, we learned that careful preservation of fossils and artifacts helps inform our research as cultural historians.”
Ross Lower School served as a temporary home to an Egyptian Museum, curated and assembled by the fifth grade class as their culminating activity for their studies of Egyptian history and culture. Each student chose a topic to research using library skills taught by Lower School Librarian Sinead Quinlan. They then gathered information to produce both an essay and an exhibit to be displayed in the museum. Visitors to the museum enjoyed seeing pyramids, maps, clothing, tools, weapons, makeup, and, of course, mummies, and were also treated to Egyptian bread and desserts. The fifth graders spoke confidently with visitors to explain their beautiful exhibits, constructed at home with help from their parents. Exhibit photos and student essays will be placed in the Grade 5 Ancient Civilizations Books, along with other work completed during the Egyptian unit of study.
For a glimpse into the variety of projects on display and their student creators, visit our Grade 5 Egypt Museum gallery.
One of the highlights of Ross School’s 8th grade curriculum is the Medieval Guild Projects, a few days when students step away from their regular school routine and immerse themselves in the role of guild apprentice to a master craftsperson. Just as some young people in medieval times would apprentice themselves to learn the tools and techniques of various trades, Ross students choose an area to specialize in, and end up producing beautiful results in a variety of artistic media.
This year, students focused on mosaics, sculptured gargoyles, gilded paintings, and stained glass. All of these arts were integral elements of medieval cathedrals, which in turn were the physical and cultural manifestations of the growth in universal religions and their importance to the cultures being studied.
Mentors who served as master craftspersons last month included Sag Harbor artist David Slater, who worked with students on mosaics; longtime Ross associate Mary Jaffe, who guided the creation of clay gargoyles both adorable and grotesque; painter Roisin Bateman, who instructed students in the art of applying gold leaf to their artwork; and Sue Lichtenstein Lowell, who taught students how to work with stained glass.
At the beginning of the several-day period set aside for the projects, students viewed examples of their chosen artistic expression from the time period they have been studying, such as gargoyles from Notre Dame or illuminated manuscripts. The painting guild even examined the definitive 15th-century “how-to” book on using gold leaf and egg tempera to enhance works of art, authored by Cennino Cennini. The guilds then begin work on their own creations. It is a labor-intensive process, but the work comes with intangible rewards. Jen Cross, dean of Visual Arts, explained that the project gives students a sense of the communal learning and structure that was so essential to the medieval way of life. In addition, she said, students “have to demonstrate patience to achieve their goals.” There is a “reverence for the activity” that is a departure from the day-to-day schedule of modern life.
Eighth grader Lilly enthusiastically agrees. “I really loved the process!” she said. “It was such a fun experience and pretty easy to learn. I also think it was cool to learn what people had to do to make stained glass back in the Middle Ages.”
For more pictures of student projects, visit the Medieval Guild Projects Flickr gallery.
Most people have their own impressions of what an early settlement looked liked. It turns out, they may be surprised.
Ross School fourth graders recently explored early life in Mehrgarh, Bampo, Jericho, and Skara Brae.
The students learned about how these ancient people invented agriculture processes and early farming as well as the culture of the early settlements.
From the first example of dentistry practice to honing items such as bones to make tools, early cultures made use of what they needed to create and sustain life.
All students provided a commendable demonstration of understanding of our history.
On February 5, Ross School eighth graders traveled to Manhattan to visit two religious landmarks as part of their studies of medieval culture and civilizations. The annual trip to the Islamic Cultural Center of New York and the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine provides a unique opportunity to discuss pivotal events, faiths, and customs with religious leaders and guides and to see firsthand historical works of the time period.
Eighth grade teacher Mark Tompkins has organized this trip for his students for several years, and he says talking with the experts helps convey the enormous impact the Middle Ages had on the evolution of culture, art, and religion.
At the Islamic Center, the first official mosque in New York City, the students met with an imam from Sierra Leone and learned that the building is oriented toward Mecca at a 58° angle. Consequently, the building is rotated 29° from Manhattan's north-south street grid, which which in turn is rotated 29° from due north-south. The calculation of the direction from New York to Mecca was based on the great circle that produces the shortest distance between the two cities. Students also took the opportunity to ask questions about the tenets of the Islamic faith such as fasting during the month of Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The class then discussed the significance of the mosque’s beautiful architecture, noting carvings and calligraphy on walls, and the mihrab, a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, and the point Muslims face when praying.
Next, the class visited Saint John the Divine, where they enjoyed the Signs and Symbols tour with a guide who compared the cathedral’s structure to that of a medieval cathedral and identified stories and symbols depicted by the stained glass windows, sculptures, tapestries, and brasses throughout the building. Students also learned that the structure is one of the largest cathedrals in the world.
A major highlight of the visit was the recently completed Phoenix installation. The piece, created by pioneering contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing, was constructed with glass, lights, and items culled from building sites in urban Beijing. Phoenix is composed of two birds, a male called Feng and a female called Huang. Together, they hang suspended in the nave of the cathedral, weigh 12 tons, and measure 90 and 100 feet long, respectively.
“The trip brings new understanding to religious history and culture, and the impact the medieval period continues to have on the modern world,” Mark said.