Izzy Mayer is one of Nueva’s second grade lead teachers. While she is new to this role, she is not new to Nueva, having previously been an associate for two years. She grew up in Berkeley and followed her passions for education and community to Occidental College, where she graduated with degrees in history and education.
This year, her experiences have been shaped by the meaningful partnerships that sustain her work—the students, her colleagues, and our second grade parents. Drawing on the insights and experiences she gained through the Nueva ITP program and inspired by her students’ powerful sense of curiosity and humor, Izzy is proving to be an invaluable member of the second-grade teaching team.
Jim Morrison: While nothing could truly prepare you for the year we are having, how did your time at Nueva as an associate teacher prepare you to move into a lead-teaching role this year?
Izzy Mayer: My two years as an Associate Teacher prepared me a lot for this year!
Both of my formal mentors—Damon Allswang and Lori Mustille—modeled great strategies for incorporating fun and creativity into the classroom and gave me freedom to try different ideas, allowing me to feel confident and flexible in my teaching.
As an associate teacher (in pre-COVID times) I often supported specialists as well, so I also had the chance to observe and work with Zubin, Emily L., Lisa, Rebecca, and Gemma, which also grew my teaching toolbox. Being part of the AT community during my first two years gave me valuable insight into other classrooms, provided structured framework for lesson planning, made space for critical thinking about pedagogy, and was my introduction to giftedness and supporting differentiation for all learnings.
JM: For those of our readers who have never taught second grade or who might not remember being in second grade, can you describe a second-grade learner for them? What questions are your students asking? What are ideas and issues most often discussed?
IM: Ironically, when I was a student, I skipped second grade. So, until I was a second grade associate teacher, I had never been in a second grade classroom! Seven and eight are truly magical ages! Students in second grade have an earnest curiosity, an increased sense of awareness, and are increasingly independent. Our guiding questions in second grade are, “Who are we? Where are we from? And how did we get here?” These investigations are consistent with students’ investment in researching themselves and their interest in discovering patterns and stories from the broader world and community.
There is lots of laughter, riddles, codes, and collaborative play in second grade. One of the things this year’s class takes the most pride in is their class name. It was developed over a series of Zoom classes during the first week of school. We were committed to a consensus decision and wanted everyone to be included and represented in the class name.
After one class with some small group brainstorming and reflecting, they shared their ideas for final names. However, when it was time to vote, there was no consensus between Zoom Otters, AOZZ (Adventurous Otters and Zoom Zebras), Persevering Adventurous Otters, and Persevering Penguins.
JM: That sounds like a true dilemma.
IM: The next morning, the conversation continued and, instead of negotiating for one single adjective and animal combination, they merged the ideas, continuing to build it into an uniquely silly, 32-word name which was “Persevering Penguins and Adventurous Otters and Zooming Zebras who are especially Creative, Inventive, Awesome, Kind, Purple, Playful, Hardworking, Funny, Eating Two Cheesy Chewy Cheeseburgers and Buttery Pancakes and Spinach Apple Strawberry Smoothies.”
Megan came to a class meeting to present them with a certificate and we continued to celebrate their perseverance! I guess it’s also helpful to share that alliteration and adjectives are very popular, fun language play for second graders!
JM: This year, you and Sasha are in your first years as second-grade lead teachers at Nueva. What role has collaboration played in your success and how have you relied on the greater community to iterate and build upon the second-grade experience?
IM: Over the summer, Sam R., Sasha, Samantha, Emily, and I met and started calling ourselves, “Team Two.” The structure of second grade has been iterated and reiterated many times this year in response to the Nueva Flex model, the need for cohorting, and our specialist rotations. It has truly been a Herculean team effort. While there was a deep second-grade curriculum in place, it was not designed for remote learners. This year, we have been constantly rotating responsibilities for creating slide decks, coordinating virtual guest speakers, and mailing out materials.
Recently, second-graders have been in three cohorts, each led by members of the second-grade teaching team. This has allowed students to engage in immersive music, math, and writing intensives, and we are so grateful for all the specialists who took on classroom dynamics in a way that has never been needed before. We also are relying on and are supremely appreciative of Team Two class parents! They have been supporting us behind the scenes—coordinating thoughtful Choice activities, distributing and delivering Valentine’s Boxes, and helping to build community.
JM: Can you describe a unit or project that you are currently working on with students that you are excited about? How did the idea for the project come about and what has the student response been so far?
IM: Last semester, our second-graders did an epic math project all about palindrome numbers! We started the unit building palindrome numbers out of linking cubes and incorporated some fun morning messages written fully in palindrome words and phrases. In their end-of-year reflections, many students cited it as a project of which they were most proud because it required repeated, large number addition.
Essentially, every number 00 to 99 can be turned into a palindrome number by adding it to its reversal. For example: 14 + 41 = 55. Some numbers take more than one step of addition. For example, 98 and 89 don’t become palindromes until after 24 steps, and the sum is in the trillions! When students discovered the palindrome number, they recorded it on a colored piece of paper, which was posted on our class 100s chart (digitally and in the classroom). It was a multi-day project, and we wrapped up with some interesting observations and discussions about the patterns in the colors and the palindromes themselves.