My world as the Lower School Division Head is three- to six-year-olds. My world as a parent is an 11-year-old named Lucy who is in her first year in Bank Street’s Upper School (that’s the 10/11s, or 5th grade). Sometimes, these two identities intertwine:
- When I read in Lucy’s weekly class update that they had a familiar-sounding community discussion: “What makes friendships challenging?” I saw, once again, that growing never ends—and it continues to be supported in our school.
- When I heard about students from an older age group visiting Lucy’s class to share about what happens in the Upper School dance (it’s in half the gym, kids get to make song suggestions, there’s food, and everybody’s feet hurt by the end), I had to remind myself that “dance” means something to me as an adult that is different from what it means to my child. She and her friends just had A LOT of fun! How often have I talked with parents of young children about adult perspective and child perspective? At times, I’m all parent and it’s hard for my professional self to support the parent that I am.
Another recurring theme in my professional life is how academic learning happens within a progressive pedagogy. Upper School Math Night was an ah-ha moment. I was thrilled to see Lower School classroom block areas live, shine through, and undergird The Tupelo Problem; a 10/11s math challenge featuring fractions, common denominators, area, perimeter, spatial thinking, measurement, part-whole relationships, and size equivalency.
As I worked with my parent math partner that night on analyzing and reconfiguring plots of land parceled out on graph paper, my mind’s eye kept seeing unit blocks: doubles, quads, squares, and butter sticks (yes, real names of some blocks Lower Schoolers build with). I got more and more excited by seeing the direct connection between Lower School materials work—with blocks, no less!—and higher level mathematical thinking. The more opportunities young children have to think flexibly and to problem solve with the mathematics embedded in block building, the more adept their brain wiring can be for the layers upon layers that follow.
Not surprisingly, there were multiple ways to approach the Tupelo Problem. The other two partnerships at our table were working differently than we were—one set measured the whole perimeter while we were, on the other hand, working parcel by parcel. When the teacher pointed that out, I got an itch to try out their way. Is that what happens when Lower Schoolers have a block share—explaining their block buildings to the rest of the class and answering their questions just before dismantling and putting the structures away?
In The Tupelo Problem, students re-arrange parcels of land, approaching the problem visually or numerically by fractions. They may see the whole of the landscape or see it parcel by parcel. They get to accurate answers by different paths. And accuracy matters. At Math Night, the teachers guided us to reconsider our answers through questioning us, which included finding out how we were thinking.
When I hear myself say that mathematical thinking builds over time, that it’s a way of viewing the world, that it’s a language built up by including math in everyday conversations—it’s true. My view as an Upper School parent breathed new life into my professional knowledge.
Emily Linsay is the Lower School Division Head at Bank Street School for Children. Prior to working with the 3/4s through 5/6s, Emily was a 4/5s Head Teacher. She has been on the faculty at Bank Street since 1995.
Georgetown University, BA, English
Bank Street College of Education, MA, Early Childhood Education