08 Dec Meaningful learning is hard work: Second grade community maps

The second-grade students were working in pairs, spread around the room, on the floor, and at tables.  They had large, poster-sized pieces of graph paper in front of them.  They were busy at work, talking to each other about their plans as they began to create their original community maps.  As I watched the students, absorbed in their work of learning, I thought about how the community maps project exemplifies the type of academic rigor we aspire to at Schechter Manhattan.

The second-grade community unit began with the students considering questions about how communities are designed.  What are the needs of people in communities?  What are the values that underlie and guide the building of communities?  To find answers to these questions, the students embarked on a process of research.  The class went out into the neighborhood by our school, walked around, and observed what they saw.  They gathered their observations- a fire department, park, food market, library, bank, school.  Back in the classroom, the students discussed these observations and drew inferences from what they saw to figure out what values and needs are reflected in the community.  They suggested that a library reflects the value of learning, a fire station the value of safety, and a food market with fresh fruits and vegetables the value of health.

Kitah Bet continued their research by inviting a number of guests to their class.  An alumni grandparent, who is also a city planner professionally, came to visit.  He shared what adults who plan communities consider when doing that work.  The students asked him questions about what they might think about to better understand how communities are developed.  A few days later, the second-grade students from the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester came to visit.  They spent an afternoon with the second grade of Schechter Manhattan, comparing ideas about their respective communities.  The Schechter Manhattan students learned the ways that urban and suburban communities are similar and different.

With this research completed, the students turned to the task of working in pairs to create their own communities.  They wrote about the needs their communities would meet and the values that they would espouse.  Then they started creating their maps.  They practiced math skills, by drawing to scale.  And developed social studies skills, by looking carefully at what they can learn from a map.

When the maps are complete, the students will do more writing.  They will prepare descriptions of their community maps that point to the key features and the thinking behind them.  This will be the basis for the presentations that they will give to each other as well as students and faculty from the whole Schechter Manhattan school community at their community maps fair.  They will practice public speaking, sharing their work, and answering questions.

This is rigorous academic work.  It requires practice and application of many skills- research, drawing inferences, writing, collaborating, drawing to scale, reading maps, design thinking, and public speaking.  It integrates a variety of disciplines- social studies, literacy, math- to understand content and concepts deeply.  It also asks students to think about values, thereby attuning them to those things that are most important to them, and the type of people they want to be.

School work like this is multistep and complex.  This is not something that can simply be put to memory- it requires higher level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  At the beginning of the unit it is hard for the students to see how it will all come together in the end.  That is a good thing, because when learning tasks are challenging in these ways, then students can gain real satisfaction from their accomplishments.  At the community fair, they will be able to turn to their peers and adults who care about them and say “Hey!  Look at the great thing I did!”  I am looking forward to being at this year’s community maps fair to see the students enjoying the success of their learning.


Shabbat Shalom

Benjamin Mann

Author’s Chair

Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.


Gan students are planning out their fiction stories.  After considering what the main character would be, they thought about the problem that the character would have.

Character: LeU
Problem: She cat stop dasig (She can’t stop dancing.)
– Tova


Character: Worm
Problem: dat wrm kod it stop hahe hz tel (That worm couldn’t stop shaking his tail.)
– Noah


Character: Bunny
Problem: ther wuz no certs (There was no carrots.)
– Noa



In writing, we are working on our story-telling skills by writing a story about an important event in our lives in chronological order, employing sequence-establishing vocabulary along the way. The work included are excerpts from students’ stories.

Click here to view work by Zeva, Avner, Daniel, Jonah, & Ethan B.


The fifth graders are preparing to write five paragraph essays. They worked on writing expanded reason paragraphs about the topic of their choice. These are their first drafts.



There are many reasons why I will audition for the Nutcracker next year. One reason is that Level 5 (The level I will hopefully be in next year.) is usually the level of the girl who plays Marie/Clara. Getting the lead role in a ballet would be amazing. The audition will be very fun. Also, it will be a good challenge. Another reason is that I will get to spend more time with my friends from ballet. I do see them a lot, but we do not usually get many breaks. In addition, during the breaks we do have, we are getting our pointe shoes on or eating lunch. Finally, the experience. It will be good for me to perform in a professional ballet. Usually, I get to perform twice a year, but if I am in the Nutcracker, I will get to perform three times. This is why I will audition for the Nutcracker.
–  Annabelle



I really like winter and this is why. First of all, my birthday is in winter and what’s not to like about birthdays? On my birthday I get cake which is one of my favorite desserts. I also get presents which are really fun to receive. Another reason I like winter is that I get to drink hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is very sweet and I really like sweet tastes. It’s also really warm so it is good for staying warm when it’s cold. A final reason is that it snows in winter. When it snows, you can have snowball fights which is really fun. You can also make snow angels which are fun to make. Even though winter is really cold, it can still be fun.
–  Sarah



These are some reasons why animals are so important to us. One reason is they keep the Earth in good shape. One example for that is the cycle of what other animals do to keep Earth healthy (the ecosystem) so we can live in a nice environment. So pretend we lost all of the animals in the world, then Earth would be a disaster! Another reason why animals are so important to us is they can tell us our own history. One example is chimpanzees (we evolved from them).Another example is that they can teach us about the Earth & how it works. The last reason why animals are so super duper important is they show us love. One example is pets, they impact your life much more than you think.They show you how to love one another & fill life with joy.These were some reasons why animals are so so important.
–  Nina



There are a few reasons why I like skiing. One is because there are a lot of fun challenges, like going fast downhill, over bumps, and through the trees. Another reason is I enjoy being up on the mountains. With fresh air, and a nice view of everything around me. A third reason is I get to meet new people my age in ski school, and also ski with my own family. These are the reasons why I enjoy skiing and want to do it again this winter.
– Ari



For our literature unit on the Shoah, humanities students were asked to write a literary essay on their chosen memoir or novel.

Click here to view work by Zoe

Click here to view work by Alon