Last Thursday was beautiful! With a foot of snow and warm weather, we headed into the woods on snowshoes for Writing Workshop. After sitting in a circle for morning meeting and sharing announcements for the day, we found our own spots to sit to do some open ended writing in our journals. Some students wrote poems and others focused on small moments. It was the perfect way to start the day!
At the end of 2017, over winter break, Birches Associate Head and Science Specialist Katherine Parisky presented Birches School curriculum and philosophy to scientists, engineers, and teachers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University. Her talk was geared toward encouraging scientists and engineers to establish educational ties with local K-8 teachers. She also ran a workshop at AMICUS International School for teachers and administrators, detailing the positive outcomes that can result from forming collaborations with local research institutes. Birches School has always reached out to universities in the Greater Boston area and guest researchers have enriched our curriculum immensely. Many of those visits are chronicled on this blog. (For example, see December 3, 2017 blog post below.)
Our amazing Music and Drama Specialist Laura Bak worked her magic last week, directing a wonderful performance staring the kindergartners, first, second and third graders! This fun and educational musical showed how oceans are a series of interconnected systems and destroying any one part will have unintended consequences elsewhere. Basing The Ocean Show on the The Oceanography Musical: Tidepool Condos, Laura adapted the play to suit Birches students, even incorporating student ideas. She wrote new songs, arranged new dances, and added academic content to complement our fall 2017 interdisciplinary Oceans unit.
Here is a synopsis of the musical: The Ocean Show introduces us to Ashley and Maya, businesswomen bent on destroying tide pools so they can erect luxury apartment buildings. Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, has other ideas. To settle the dispute, the two of them set out to visit the wonders of the ocean. During their journey, they encounter fish and plankton, sea mammals and bioluminescent creatures. The photograph above shows some of the starfish who help educate Ashley and Maya about the importance of respecting the oceans.
On November 17, 2017, Camrin Braun, an MIT graduate student working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, came to discuss his scientific research on sharks. The students were particularly interested in how Camrin tracks sharks. Then, last week, Camrin wrote that he had recently tagged several sharks and invited Birches students to name a male blue shark. After vigorous discussion about a number of proposed names, students voted on the name "Merlin." Students selected this name because Merlin is the name of a legendary wizard who helped save a magical kingdom. Birches students want their shark Merlin to symbolize our mission to help save the ocean kingdom.
The mobile app where you can track Merlin, the Birches Blue Shark, is:
We have finished prepping the pollinator garden at 100 Bedford Road. After preparing the earth, we worked 600 pounds of manure compost (from Great Brook Farm) into the plot and then covered the garden with salt hay. We are looking forward to planting our pollinator garden when we move into our new property next spring! And please note in this picture the green lawn that was seeded this fall above our new septic system. You can imagine students at work and play here in the years to come!
We have returned to deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum for a ceramics residency with Bruce Barry, the deCordova resident potter who is an inspirational teacher. We are making trivets with ocean themes as we integrate our studies of the ocean across all disciplines. Here are a couple of examples of student work.
Our older students took a nature hike through the woods to our new school property at 100 Bedford Road. We are now creating outdoor classroom spaces and rock climbing playscapes from boulders found on the property. We can't wait to move here next spring! After a short rest, the students hiked back to our present space to work on individual projects.
Every other Friday morning, we have an All-School Assembly where students present their work or perform for the Birches community. Every six weeks or so, we have a potluck breakfast in place of an assembly. This is a wonderful opportunity for parents, teachers, and students to breakfast together and chat informally. Students like showing their parents their work and everyone enjoys the delicious food. Our parent body is full of superb cooks!
Our Kindergartners and 1st Graders enjoyed climbing trees this week. The benefits of tree climbing are numerous: Children develop strength and coordination as they climb. They also become more creative and adept at solving problems as they make important decisions for themselves and take on different perspectives in trees. Spatial sense and reasoning grow as students navigate different paths and maneuver around branches or obstacles. Social awareness and interactions develop as students coach each other to find a branch or cooperate to share space. Children become more curious about the world around them as they explore. Confidence and self-esteem grow as students persevere and “conquer” a tree.
All students undergo a tree climbing training each fall where they learn to assess a good climbing tree and learn proper techniques and protocols for a safe climb. We use the following rules in order to minimize tree-climbing risks to the greatest extent possible:
*Students must always ask a teacher if it is OK to climb, even if they have climbed that tree before;
*Teachers will approve of the particular tree at that time and supervise students while they climb;
*Students may climb only on live branches larger than their own wrists;
*Students must be able to get up and down on their own.
Now, let's have fun!
In the late spring of 2016, Birches students helped plant a large pollinator meadow on Lincoln Land Trust property. The meadow has thrived and now students visit to make observational drawings and to study the many pollinators attracted to this habitat. Tom Gumbart, the Conservation Director of Lincoln and the Birches Earth Science Advisor, sometimes meets our students at the meadow to share his thoughts and observations, as you can see below. We plan to plant our own pollinator gardens at our new home at 100 Bedford Road when we move there next spring!
This week the whole school went on an exciting field trip to Winter Island. This was part of our fall unit on the oceans. The students rotated through three stations: the rocky shores; the sandy beach; and a workshop about the food web. They collected critters, learned how to measure salinity, identified a number of animals, and got to explore the tide pools. Some classes even had the opportunity to listen to their current read aloud overlooking the water. We spent our last hour digging and exploring at Periwinkle Beach, where we found a beach full of periwinkles and tide pools rich with life. What an amazing day!
"This week in technology, we learned about the computer’s brain path and how it gets programmed. Andrea set it up like a game. On the floor was tape marking a path that a computer program would use to sort goods.
She had a bin filled with stuffed animals. There were two groups, cats and dogs. The computer was programmed to sort the bin into two categories, cat or dog. We played a game where each of us was a section of code. We learned that a computer can only do one thing at a time and it will do exactly what it is told to do. All the sorting of the cats and dogs went well until a stuffed cricket was introduced to the sorting program. For example, if we received the cricket and our card said, 'If stuffy == cat ' it would go to the 'false' path in the program. Then that stuffy would automatically go to the dog pile because to the computer anything that was not a cat was a dog. We learned that programmers have to figure out their coding “bugs” through mistakes (planning and testing)."
Our Technology Specialist has lofty goals for the 2017-18 school year. She is building a course that focuses on embedded system programming for the 4/5 and 6/7 classrooms. The classes will run the gamut from basic series and parallel circuits to micro-controllers, sensors, algorithms, programming, output devices, wifi, IoT, data collection and display. Our specialist will focus on helping students build tangible skills by working as a software team to design and build an original device in the 6/7 classroom and by learning basic software structure and organization with the 4/5s. Students will learn how to "think" about a problem and break it down to find a solution. Our students have taken first steps with their cat and dog (and cricket) game!
Many students across our country are creating self-portraits as they begin the school year. Our imaginative art teacher introduced Birches students to the work of Amedeo Modigliani and suggested that they create their self-portraits this year with Modigliani in mind. Modigliani is known for portraits characterized by elongated necks and faces. Students noticed that his artwork is not realistic: His subjects look as if they have been stretched like taffy. First, the students used mirrors to study their own faces, skin color, and hair. Then they used pencil to outline the portraits. Last, they used blended pastels to bring color to their artwork.
We had our final campout at our first school home--First Parish Lincoln, 14 Bedford Road. We have been grateful to be at FPL for five years while we grew (and then outgrew) our space. Next year, we will have our campout at our new home at 100 Bedford Road. But no matter where we are, our Birches spirit remains the same--joyful and collaborative. We helped each other pitch our tents and then parents and children made music together. We wish everyone a restful summer and we look forward to seeing you in the fall. Happy Summer!
Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders participated in a timed design challenge this week. They met with the kindergartners and first graders, took requests and measurements, and created super hero costumes for their muses. The design requirements were that they had to incorporate pleats, draping, and fastening into their costumes. They had one hour to create the costumes. Upon completing the project, student reflections included: The tissue paper was a lot harder to work with than I expected; My imagined costume was much harder to achieve than I had expected; I needed more time; Next time I would make a less complicated design! I really liked designing for my K/1!
In this collaborative challenge, small groups of students constructed pegboard marble runs while exploring the following questions:
What is a chain reaction?
What do we learn from experiencing failure?
What behaviors do we need to practice in order to collaborate productively?
On May 4th, 2017, AISNE (Association of Independent Schools in New England) held its second annual Health and Wellness Symposium, in which independent school teachers, counselors, administrators, nurses, staff, and coaches came together for a day dedicated to promoting health and wellness within our schools. This year, for the first time, AISNE offered three, 30-minute experiential practice sessions. Our Yoga and Mindfulness Specialist was chosen to lead the yoga session. She commented on the fact that "It was a powerful experience to be in a room full of teachers, who dedicate themselves every day to the well being of their students, strengthening their own internal sense of wellness. We cannot give something that we do not have ourselves."
Two Birches students--a 2nd Grader and a 4th Grader, neither of whom speaks Spanish at home--participated in the National Spanish Spelling Bee Semifinals in Foxboro on April 29. One of them won the competition for his grade and the other advanced to the finals in his grade. Most importantly, they both displayed excellent sportsmanship, encouraging and praising their competitors. Enthusiastic thanks to our Spanish Specialist who offered this opportunity to our students. She worked with them after school and coached their parents who helped them at home. Congratulations to all! Muchas felicidades a todos!
Birches students have just finished a wonderful Art Fridays at deCordova unit with Bruce Barry, resident potter at the museum. They learned many techniques for making and decorating clay plates, bowls, mugs, and wind chimes. The final project was extraordinary: Bruce showed the students how to start with a clay sphere and to tease out the clay to create gargoyles. All the children let their imaginations soar, constructing unique and powerful figures. Thanks to Bruce for his exciting guest residency!