Classroom in the City

In the city of the city—it is what we do at Friends Select every day. On November 22, the entire middle school spent the day across the city exploring Philadelphia's murals, museums, and numerous outdoor spaces and gardens. This was a chance for students to experience firsthand the city's diverse resources in cross-curricular ways. As learners out and about for the day, students composed object studies, conducted on-site research, explored artistic installations, and dug into the interconnected concepts of art, social studies, science, and literature.  

Middle School Classroom in the City Day

We named this day “Classroom in the City.” This concept started from two middle school teachers who applied for a summer grant from the former director of city curriculum, Heidi Hutchinson. Teachers Steph Demko (5/6 Social Studies) and Alexis Flack (7/8 Social Studies) spent the summer going to city museums creating lessons that went along with their respective curricula. After reporting out to colleagues at a faculty meeting and describing this cross-grade collaboration between the 5th and 8th grades, there was a desire to have a mirrored collaboration for the 6th and 7th graders. The current director of city curriculum, Margaret Smith, began working with grade teams brainstorming and planning, and the concept was born.  

The 5th and 8th graders began their city journey at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. While at the museum, students visited the following galleries: Asia, Africa, Mexico and Central America, and Native Voices. Here the 8th graders were research photographers interacting with objects and taking photographs for an activity in the spring. The 8th graders also composed an object study. Working in cross-grade pairs, 5th and 8th graders explored an exhibit featuring the Mound Builders where they selected a case study and then worked together to determine how that case study illustrated people interacting with the environment and each other. After leaving the museum, these students visited Sister Cities Park, where they enjoyed lunch. They finished the day at the Franklin Institute watching a show at the Planetarium, The Sky Tonight. As they enjoyed this show, students developed connections between the sky and themes of their social studies classes. 

The 6th grade spent the morning at the Philadelphia Free Library's Rare Book Department to see their book collection along with other samples of early writing systems on papyrus and parchment. They also saw Grip, Charles Dickens's pet raven that inspired Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem. Following their time at the library, the 6th grade set off for Bartram’s Garden. There they enjoyed lunch before having a workshop related to early Quakers who shaped Bartram’s Gardens and Philadelphia as a whole and enjoyed a science-based workshop. These trips allowed the students to take on place-based history and to view the art of urban planning. The students will use this experience to work together collaboratively to construct a full-fledged city of their own. This connects with their work in English class around the novel Seedfolks and expanded on the nature-based experiments they have been doing in science, all the while making a connection to our school’s Quaker roots.  

The 7th grade embarked on a substantial visual art-focused walking tour. The first stop was to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, where students explored the dynamic mosaic art of Isaiah Zagar. Then the group had lunch and walked to the Flow exhibition at the Independence Seaport Museum. Students viewed water-based art installations and had the opportunity to talk to one of the artists about their art-making process. To complete their study of public art, students headed to Philadelphia’s newly formed Fashion District to see the many pieces of public art housed there.   

It is incredible to work with faculty who are forward-thinking and understand the core of a Friends Select education—using the city of Philadelphia to create learning experiences for students that are both authentic and tied to the curriculum. During a faculty meeting at the beginning of November, the entire middle school faculty walked together down the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Barnes Foundation to see the exhibition 30 Americans. I felt it was important to provide a group learning experience for us all, and it was amazing to witness the curiosity and the honest conversations that the exhibition sparked in our teachers. Our middle school community is lucky to have experienced educators that harbor a true passion and love of learning. I cannot wait to see what wonders they come up with for our springtime version of Classroom in the City—stay tuned!