By Marsha Dionisio
Something amazing happens when educators collaborate toward a common goal: liftoff!
Just ask the fourth graders at the Hugh J. Boyd Jr. Elementary School in Seaside Heights about space rockets and skyscrapers. They can tell you that about Peter Smith, who shared his love of these topics them.
Smith is a teacher, author, cinematographer and local businessman. He is also the vice president of the Seaside Heights Board of Education. Smith’s family has many connections to the school beyond his service on the board. Part of the school’s technology lab is dedicated to Smith, and a wing in our building is dedicated to his father, a long-time board member himself.
As a guest in our fourth-grade class, Smith’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) lessons were a collaboration with me. with veteran grade 4 classroom teacher Marsha Dionisio, inclusion teacher Tiffany Nagy, special education teachers Nicole Gara and Alicia Marino, music teacher Jessica Thompson, support teacher Suzanne Heagan and supervisor Louise Pesci, with approval from Principal Christopher Raichle and Superintendent Dr. Triantafillos Parlapanides.
We conducted a comprehensive science lesson and experimental “mission” in capillary infusion using baby food jars, paper towels and food coloring. Teachers assisted students in conducting this experiment in groups. We leanred how rocket ships work and students came away with an understanding of spacecrafts and the jobs that astronauts perform in space.
Smith highlighted careers for astronauts with a special focus on a Mexican-American astronaut José M. Hernández. He played the song “Rocket Man” by Elton John while the groups conducted their experiments. He presented a video showing the inside of a space shuttle and asked students listen to an astronaut as she pointed out the different work areas in a space shuttle. Students drew artwork of what they believed that they could see from a spacecraft.
Music teacher Jessica Thompson taught a lesson for the day which coincided with the space theme. Students listened to and sang songs about space.
Smith’s second booster lesson was on skyscrapers. Students worked together to create the tallest skyscraper they could. Their materials were simple strands of uncooked spaghetti, marshmallows and masking tape. Rulers were used to measure heights of the spaghetti skyscrapers by the students with the help of their teachers.
Smith showed a video about the World Trade Center’s twin towers that explained how they were built and why they collapsed on 9/11. He also showed a video on the world-famous art deco Chrysler Building. Students are still in awe of its beauty and charm.
We displayed a large poster with new vocabulary words and new words as Smith introduced them, such as, proportion, skyline, juxtaposition and spire.
In fact, in May he took the class to One Liberty Observation Deck in Philadelphia, along with all the teachers who collaborated with him in his lessons. One Liberty is Philadelphia’s tallest observation deck with a 360-degree panoramic view of historic Philadelphia.
With a team of educators, administrators, board members, parents and community members that is willing to collaborate anything is possible—even blasting off from a skyscraper to the moon. We want our students at Boyd to dream big! The sky is “NOT” the limit.
Marsha Dionisio fourth-grade teacher at Hugh J. Boyd Elementary School in Seaside Heights. She was one of six teachers nationwide named a 2013 People Magazine Teacher of the Year. Dionisio can be reached at