Third-Graders Discover the “Real” America by Mail

by Shari Bozorgzad, Grade 3 Teacher

In February, we asked our third-grade students, “How can we research the unique qualities of each state in our nation?” We got the typical responses such as, “We could check out books from the library or look up information on the Internet.” I love that our students know where to find information, but I was looking for something a little more unusual.

Before coming to Langley, I had witnessed a project that I thought would be perfect for our third-graders. I explained to our students that the best way to learn about a city, town, or state is to get firsthand information from the residents. In order to solicit this firsthand feedback, our third-graders sent letters to several small-town newspapers in each state, asking residents to help them learn more about their state by sending postcards, maps, photos, souvenirs, and other useful information.

 Just one week later, I returned to my classroom after lunch to find my chair full of packages.

We received various items from across the country, including an original painting from an 83-year-old Mississippi man that depicted the Natchez Trace Parkway and a sample of cotton from a Mississippi woman’s family farm with a note telling of the fond memories she had of picking cotton as a little girl.

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Performing with Joy

by Sheila Malcolm, Music Teacher

When it comes to my youngest students, musical performances are much more about showcasing their joyful exuberance than achieving a “perfect” show. And that joy is what parents saw last week during our Primary School spiral unit performance, “Let’s Go to the Zoo.” It was a true reflection of what the children learned in class, rather than a staged show. My aim was to create a safe and fun environment in which even the shyest of children felt comfortable.

Our performance reflected the culmination of a month-long study of age-appropriate, zoo-themed activities undertaken by each Primary School grade across subjects, including P.E., Spanish, technology, library, and of course, music. It represented a genuine team effort, not only from the faculty, but also from the children as they learned how important it was to work together, be considerate of others, and always strive to do their best in order to make their performance successful.

The songs and movement activities were chosen with great care to ensure they were age-appropriate and enjoyable for the children. There were lions roaring, kangaroos hopping, penguins waddling, elephants trumpeting, and monkeys playing, just to name a few. The songs were also linked to their classroom studies. For example, the junior kindergarten classes learned about how the welfare and well-being of the animals was important, so one of their songs was about the training requirements and work responsibilities of a zoo veterinarian. The kindergarten classes learned about how zoos help endangered species, so one of their songs was about the gorilla. They also learned how to differentiate between a monkey and an ape.

Musically, much of what was seen on stage was a direct reflection of skills the children had learned in music class. They played their instruments to a steady beat, used dynamics in the songs, learned about verse and refrain, focused on keeping together by listening to others, learned to recognize and listen for phrases in music, and learned how to count beats and listen to musical cues for their choreography and dances.

Performing in front of an audience, no matter how scary for some, helps build the confidence our students will need to flourish in the wider world. We’ll see this growing confidence on display on stage in the coming weeks as our first-graders take us Down Under to Australia, our second-graders give their “Coming to America” performance, and our Middle Schoolers present the musical, “Willy Wonka.”

Inspiring Ideas at the STEAM Fair

by Mollie Morneau, Junior Kindergarten Teacher and Chair of the STEAM Fair

More than just an acronym, STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics) represents a way of thinking, growing, and learning through hands-on experimentation and critical-thinking challenges. STEAM projects are inherently interdisciplinary – they drive us to develop methods or propose solutions through actions like creating, designing, building, and testing.

This past weekend, The Langley School hosted hundreds of enthusiastic community members at our second annual STEAM Fair which offered families the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dig into the integrated business of work and play.

Here are a few STEAM projects that you can do at home. Note that the instructions are deliberately vague:

  • If you were given 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string, what kind of tower would you build that could suspend a marshmallow in the air? This type of activity is based in the reality of limited resources, but allows for children – and their parents – to approach it in a multitude of ways.
  • Offer your child a selection of materials such as popsicle sticks, plastic spoons, rubber bands, and binder clips. Challenge him or her to create a catapult that will fling a cotton ball or a marshmallow across the room! Can you create one that launches straight up in the air, or does the cotton ball go sideways? Is it possible to focus your aim in order to hit a specific target? You may be surprised at how creative your child can be when given raw materials and a goal grounded in his or her natural sense of experimentation and play.
  • Gather a handful of objects to build an “artbot” that moves across the table with marker “legs” that draw as it walks. The Digital Harbor Foundation has basic instructions for several different models; the version we made at the STEAM Fair requires a 4.5V round mini motor, a AA battery casing with wire leads, an eraser or cork to destabilize the movement, a cup, markers, and tape. Slight variations in the placement of materials had a great impact on the artwork created, and students at the STEAM Fair delighted in discovering how their robots could operate!

In addition to incorporating physics-based thinking like how shape and spatial relationship affect a structure’s design and a process of scientific experimentation, these types of challenges encourage social-emotional growth, an area we nurture in equal measure at Langley.

It can be frustrating when something breaks or when a carefully conceived design has the opposite of the intended effect. We build resilience and a growth mindset when we see these supposed “failures” as anything but – in fact, as children’s book character Rosie Revere realizes, these initial prototypes are often the “perfect first try.” Throughout our STEAM Fair, families could be found tackling the posed problems with a spirit of collaboration and innovation that only grew with each temporary roadblock they encountered.

Langley STEAM Fair 2017In addition to hands-on challenges, the STEAM Fair provided a venue for young scientists to present their work and for families to explore all that Langley has to offer. As the site of the science fair for grades 6 and 7, the auditorium was filled not only with the buzz of students eagerly explaining their findings to judges and parents, but also with the literal buzz of remote-controlled robots using claws to move objects across the stage.

Families were treated to technology demonstrations of our 3-D printer as well as a myriad of iPad-based educational games offered by Osmo. Our librarians staffed a carefully curated selection of STEAM-themed books geared for all ages in our book nook. Free LEGO play and magnetic tiles provided an outlet for creativity to visitors of all ages, and free tickets to the awe-inspiring planetarium show “sold out” as families jumped at the opportunity to take a detailed look at constellations and planets in our night sky.

154Truly, there was something for everyone at Langley’s second annual STEAM Fair. Ours is a community of students and parents whose spirit of imagination and ingenuity seems boundless and we are thankful for the chance to continue to explore and grow alongside them!

“Planning” Ahead for 2017

By Amy Jones, Director of Resource at The Langley School

I love the comics. Here’s a strip from Luann by Greg Evans. The girl exclaims, “This is great!  No homework!!”  Her classmate stares at her in disbelief, “What about that huge science project that’s due in two days?  You haven’t even started it!”  She replies with delight, “I mean no homework TONIGHT!”

Executive functions, the thinking which takes place primarily in the pre-frontal cortex, are the functions responsible for planning — or lack thereof as we see in Luann. Many refer to these brain functions as an air traffic controller or the conductor of an orchestra. Students and adults alike use these functions not only to plan, but also to prioritize, organize, remember, reflect, and shift attention from one task to another. These functions help regulate emotions, inhibit desires, and attend to tasks. These capacities don’t mature until the mid 20s, but can be strengthened with practice — and it’s a perfect time to practice with a new year ahead!

Here at The Langley School, we are teaching these skills from an early age. In the Primary School, children are learning about time management and planning as they discuss the “before and after” as well as the present. During morning meeting, the children and their teachers review the calendar. “Today is Tuesday, December 20, yesterday was Monday, and tomorrow will be Wednesday.” In Lower School, the work continues. Schedules are on the board and teachers help students break down long-term assignments. Teachers give students more opportunities for reflection, allowing them to develop their metacognitive skills. In some grades, students keep track of their goals on their desks as well as use checklists for important routines.

Executive functions Skills Building

Middle School often presents challenges and opportunities for students, as they are changing classes and keeping track of homework in at least five different subjects. During sixth-grade orientation in the fall, teachers explicitly work with students to understand planning, time management, studying, and metacognition. In advisory at the beginning of the year, students “map” their week so they have a better understanding of the time that they have to manage. Self-reflection is built into many assignments, and students prepare to lead parent-teacher conferences by spending time in advisory thinking of their strengths and areas for improvement.

You can help your children develop better executive functioning at home. To learn more about executive functioning, and executive dysfunction, click here to view a recent PALS talk given to Langley parents by Kathy Essig of The StudyPro and to access other resources.

From New Student to Langley Ambassador

By Cory McLucas, Eighth Grade Langley Student

About three years ago, I transferred to The Langley School. I was entering sixth grade and knew no one. I was nervous, scared, and had no idea what to expect. I was worried that I would not fit in and would not be able to make new friends. Fortunately, all these feelings were washed away within the first days of school. When I walked into Langley on that first day, I was immediately greeted by students and teachers who showed me where my classes were, sat with me at lunch, and went out of their way to make sure I felt comfortable. Even though many of my classmates had known each other for years, Langley’s warm and welcoming atmosphere made it easy for me to fit in. After only one week of school, I felt as though I was a part of the school’s community and no longer felt like I was the “new kid.” I had new friends and felt accepted at my new school.

cory-mclucasAs an eighth-grader, I found myself wanting to share my experience of switching to The Langley School with prospective students and parents. The student ambassador program gave me that opportunity.  Every year, a small group of Middle School students are chosen as student ambassadors. I am one of these students. As a student ambassador, I get to communicate my experiences to families interested in the school. Since I transferred to Langley in Middle School, I can relate to many families and tell them how easy it is to make the switch to Langley.

Student ambassadors are dedicated to the positive promotion of The Langley School. We work with the Admission Office and help with events held for prospective families. At information sessions, we give parent tours, answer questions, and make sure we show parents the highlights of our school. We host students who come for a shadow visit. We also help out at school events like the Fall Fair and Grandparents & Special Friends Day. Recently, we went on a field trip to The Lab School in Washington, DC. At The Lab School, we went on a tour and got a different perspective on what makes a good tour guide. We learned a lot from this which will help us improve our ability to interact with others and better promote our school.langley-tour

As a student ambassador, I am learning many things. It has helped me improve my interview skills, made it easier for me to interact with people I don’t know, and made me appreciate the positive and welcoming Langley community. It also made me realize that I want to go to a high school that has a similar community where I can feel both challenged and supported at the same time.


An Expression of Gratitude from Langley’s Head of School

by Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of School

One of the great privileges of being the head of The Langley School is the opportunity to meet with a small group of elected student advisors on a monthly basis. This group, my “advisors to the head,” keeps me focused on the real work of school leadership: the quality of student lunch, the number of minutes spent at recess, and the spirited debate over 4 Square rules. Last week, however, after the obligatory conversation about food and fun, I asked the students what they were looking forward to most as Thanksgiving approached. While food was certainly mentioned, more of the discussion centered on spending time with family, cherished holiday traditions, and seeing grandparents and special friends. The group reminded me that the purpose of the holiday is to be thankful for our families and friends and to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives.

These wise students reminded me what should be obvious, that gratitude is at the heart of the holiday season. And this year in particular, I definitely feel a strong sense of gratitude for the compassion and strength of our school family. For a number of members of this school community, 2016 has brought significant health challenges and untimely loss. In just the last few months, I have attended memorial services for parents taken from their families too young and I have sat with community members battling life-threatening illnesses. I have also watched our community step up with arms wide open and offer the kind of support that makes a real difference in times of sadness and struggle.

The Langley School Community

At a recent service I attended, one of the speakers offered the following advice to the group gathered to mourn the loss of a friend, father, and colleague: “Invest tirelessly, relentlessly, and fearlessly in your relationships.” I watch this happen every day at The Langley School. I watch colleagues step up and cover classes so that someone can tend to a seriously ill family member. I am in awe of the candor, tenacity, and humility of one of our parents who is battling cancer, all while being fully present in every moment of her life. I’m moved when I hear this same person offering to help another community member who is just beginning her chemotherapy. Publicly and privately, in large and small ways, members of our school are doing everything they can to lighten the load for those whose burdens are heavy.

When you live in a community as large and multigenerational as ours, illness, loss, and struggle are expected. This fall, however, it’s felt like we’ve had more than our share. In the midst of this, my young advisors brought me back to what matters most – gratitude, compassion, and hopefulness. Investing tirelessly, relentlessly, and fearlessly in our relationships gives us the strength to weather tough times, connects us to a community that is here when we need them, and reminds us not to take any moment for granted. So as we head into a season that can be eclipsed by “to-do lists” and frantic work to get everything right, slow down, be present for those you love, and savor those relationships you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

I give thanks this holiday season for Langley, our community, and all of the inspiration and hopefulness it has brought into my life.



Have You Ever Heard of the Math Ceiling Fairy?

By Inga Schoenbrun and Janice Graves, Math Specialists

Have you ever heard of the Math Ceiling Fairy? Many students’ eyes are glued to the ceiling anxiously awaiting the fairy’s appearance to give them the answer to math problems like 8×7. The fairy may be a figment of our imagination, but reliance on memorization is not. A recent article in Scientific American details research from Stanford University showing that an emphasis on memorization, rote procedures, and speed impairs learning and achievement in math.

At Langley, we strive to develop strategies that allow our students to use what they do know to figure out something they don’t. In the example of 8×7, a student might employ the double strategy: I know 4×7 is 28 and 8 groups is double 4 groups, so 8×7 is double 28 or 56! This student understands not only how to double numbers, but also the structure of multiplication as equal groups. Another student might realize they know 7×7 is 49, and simply add one more group of 7 to get 56.

Math at Langley

Students who recognize the effect operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) have on numbers are more adept at solving complex, multi-step problems. They construct concrete or pictoral models to illustrate the problems and allow themselves to take risks to solve problems using a variety of methods. Strategy-based learning leads to generative knowledge where memorization lends itself to temporal and compartmentalized learning.

Do we value math fact fluency? Absolutely we do. We are committed to building fluency hand in hand with number sense and mental math strategies. Listen closely as your child computes numbers and marvel at his or her creativity and efficiency. It just might surprise you.

It Takes a (Langley) Village

by Jennifer Graham, Parent of Langley Students in Grades 5 and 7

This past Saturday was a great day to be a Langley leopard! The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the trees were in full fall glory, and these conditions created the perfect backdrop for one of The Langley School’s most beloved and long-standing traditions – the 62nd annual Fall Fair. It was my pleasure and honor to co-chair this event for our community. Being part of the fair was a great reminder of one of the main reasons my family chose Langley in the first place…the people and the amazing sense of community.

Langley Fall FairThroughout the planning process and the execution on the day of the fair, our community came together to create a wonderful event and leave our children with memories that will last a lifetime. Parents eagerly volunteered to head up the various aspects of the fair, and joyfully carried out their work with diligence and creativity. The broader community came together to fill over 120 volunteer slots on the day of the fair, and many more parents contributed cakes, cookies, and brownies to support our Bake Sale and Cake Walk. I watched Middle School students eagerly sign up to work volunteer shifts, and I saw the tireless dedication of Langley’s administrators and facilities and transportation teams as they worked behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly.

Langley Fall Fair

It truly “takes a village” to make the Fall Fair happen, and it was so heartwarming to see everyone’s efforts come together to create a day that brought smiles to our children’s faces and created an environment where parents got to know each other better, working side by side. I love to “Live Langley” every day, but days like Saturday serve as an extra reminder of how special it is to be a part of the Langley community. I look forward to many more events this year that will bring our community together for more fun and great memories!

MS Play

What’s It Like to Be “Top Dog” in Middle School?

by Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School

A recent study published in the American Educational Research Journal confirms what many of our Langley families already know. Our intentional preschool to grade 8 educational model provides a safer and more conducive environment for student learning. The study, recently highlighted by NPR, concludes that traditional middle school models with grade spans of 6-8 and 6-12 had more incidents of bullying or threats against other students. In these traditional school models, middle school students were considered “bottom dogs” and reported feeling less safe with more incidents of bullying and less sense of community in comparison to middle schoolers who attended schools with a K-8 model. Click here to read the short article from NPR.

At The Langley School, our Middle School students have numerous opportunities to feel like “top dogs” and exhibit authentic leadership on campus. Langley’s preschool to grade 8 model intentionally creates such an environment, while the faculty and administration design learning activities that foster leadership and a strong sense of community.

Hear what it’s like to be a “top dog” from Langley’s Middle School parents and students:

Langley Launches New Research-Based Teacher Feedback Model

By Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School, The Langley School

The Langley School teachers have long been recognized as one of the best and most respected faculties in the Northern Virginia region. Research suggests that the single most important factor in student achievement is the quality of a student’s teacher. Thus, the recruiting and hiring process is taken very seriously when any opening occurs at Langley.

But just as important as hiring is the school’s commitment to develop teachers’ instructional and curricular knowledge and abilities. Langley invests heavily in the continuing professional development of our teachers as faculty attend national and regional conferences about the best practices surrounding their respective fields. While professional development is an important cornerstone of maintaining and growing a strong faculty, so is the evaluation model that a school uses to provide meaningful feedback about teaching and learning.

Starting this school year, The Langley School faculty are engaging in a new teacher evaluation system designed to provide more timely and meaningful feedback to teachers about their instructional practices in the classroom. After spending the last school year examining the previous system and exploring other models for teacher evaluation, the Langley Academic Leadership Team (ALT) instituted a new system, the Marshall Observation Method, which is based on the work and research of Kim Marshall. Mr. Marshall, a lifelong educator who resides in the Boston area, is nationally renowned for his work in teacher evaluation and feedback. Langley’s ALT worked with about 25 faculty members during the 2015-2016 school year who volunteered to pilot two potential models of evaluation and feedback before the final decision was made to implement the Marshall Method.

Under the new Marshall evaluation system, members of Langley’s ALT visit each faculty member at least eight times throughout the school year for short, focused observations. Following each classroom visit, the teacher and ALT member reflect on the areas of strength and growth of the lesson. The ALT member writes a summary of the post-observation conference, along with any recommendations, and sends it to the teacher for his/her review. Each teacher also meets with his or her supervising ALT member in January and May for a mid- and final-year conference to discuss professional growth. Research shows that more meaningful and frequent feedback about instruction results in more observable growth of teachers.

The Langley School

Feedback from Langley’s faculty is very positive. Ryan McKinney, Lower and Middle School science teacher and Science Department head, remarked, “As teachers, we know that teachable moments lead to authentic learning experiences that help students grow. Implementing the Marshall Method at Langley provides more of an opportunity for teachers and administrators to experience and reflect on events that happen between students and teachers in the classroom. These ‘teachable moments’ are used to help start the collaborative process of developing strategies that improve teacher performance. In the end, it is a win for the administrator, teacher, and most importantly, the students.”

Devon Davidson, grade 5 teacher, was also impressed with the new process for teacher evaluation as she stated, “I think the Marshall observations allow for more holistic and realistic observations. The regularity of having someone come into my room, and not just once a year at the end of the year, gave the observer and me the chance to examine my teaching and the students in a realistic manner. The observers see authentic moments in our room which help develop relevant and applicable feedback. I appreciate that the post-observation meetings are short, and are more of a conversation rather than an assessment of my performance. One of the things I find most helpful in our post-observation conversations are the immediately applicable suggestions. Throughout the year, we get into our routines and sometimes forget about ideas or strategies that could be effective for our students. The post-observation conversations I have had always spark an idea to refresh what I do in the classroom.”

We are very proud of the impact that this model is having on our already vibrant teacher culture and community, and most importantly, our students’ learning. We hope you’ll reach out to learn more about our program.


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