Electives in Elementary & Middle School? Yes!!

“Explorations” is a weekly elective offered to our 2nd-8th grade students. Every six weeks or so these electives change based on what the students are currently interested in, the season and what excites the teachers to share! The students are able to choose what they would like to participate in each cycle. Taking advantage of the weather this round of Explorations is of course being held outdoors! The four current Explorations are: trail running, conservation work (bridge building in collaboration with the Lincoln Conservation Committee), hobby horses and basketball!

Reading Buddies!

Once a week our 4/5 students join the K/1 classroom for Reading Buddies! Learning to read is an integral part of the K/1’s curriculum - and making sure reading is fun may even be more important. Reading buddies is a great way for the younger students to get in some extra reading time and also a wonderful community building activity for the older kids.

The K/1 Classroom has been exploring Mexico!

Over the course of the year, the K/1 classroom explores three or four unique themes. These themes change from year to year depending on the class makeup and interests. The themes often connect to the natural world in some way and always provide rich content and cross-curricular links to engage children in their studies.

This year the K/1 classroom has studied bears, the solar system, and, most recently, Mexico! The past few weeks have been very exciting as the class studied Mayan ruins, created mythical creatures (alebrijes), learned how to make (and eat) traditional cuisine, learned about immigration, and of course continued with their weekly Spanish lessons. The teachers built a market in the classroom (Mercado de Abedules) which was a wonderful way for the children to practice their math skills as they were buying and selling produce.

This unit allowed for exciting guest speakers. These guests brought in folk art from Oaxaca, shared stories from a recent trip to Mexico City, and taught the students how to make handmade tortillas. The class will now follow the monarch butterfly on its annual migration from Mexico into California for the final unit of the year…stay tuned!

…and just like that the City Planning Project is Complete!

One Friday a month the entire school gathers for “All School Meeting.” This is a chance for students to share with faculty and parents what projects they have been working on that month. Of course our 2/3 class was very eager to show off their completed city project! They formally introduced the Birches community to “The Living Lights City.” The city is complete with electricity, green roofs, plants and everything students thought was necessary in a city today. Check out the pictures below. Can you spot the 2/3 class pet?

City Planning in the 2/3 Classroom is Ramping Up!

If you look back you might remember what the 2/3 classroom’s city planning looked like in its early stages. Well, the classroom’s commitment and hard work has paid off because their neighborhoods are nearing completion! The final step will be to add trees, green space and of course electricity (stay tuned)! The last couple of weeks have been devoted to construction - using recycled cardboard to build houses, apartments, museums, hospitals, hotels and schools. Each building needed to be designed, measured, constructed and then painted. As part of this project students have also been learning how to write persuasive essays: They are trying to create laws they would like to enact within their city limits.

As an added bonus the 2/3 students had a very special guest - Jim McClutchy! Jim led the construction team on the Birches School building renovation at 100 Bedford Road last year. We are all very thankful to Jim for visiting and of course helping to create the amazing school we reside in today!

Cambridge Science Festival - Is it Magic or Physics?!

On April 13th quite a few of our students joined 4/5 Teacher & Science Specialist Katherine Parisky and Technology Specialist Andrea Krajewska for our annual appearance at the Cambridge Science Festival. The event included 113 participants but only four K-8 schools of which we were one. It was held at the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School’s Field House. The Festival attracted many visitors who were lucky enough to learn from Birches students how to build a compass and use it to find magnetic north.

Is it Magic or is it Physics: Travel back to the early 1700’s and through the 1800’s, experiment with static charge, harness electricity, and explore the link between electricity and magnetism!

How To Make Onigiri!

This past weekend our two co-founders, Cecily and Alexis, taught Birches’ families how to make Japanese onigiri. About once a month the Birches community comes together for a fun event either at our school’s campus or at a family’s home. These events are a great way for parents to connect, learn something new and, of course, get the kids together to play! Now, you might be wondering what is onigiri?

A quintessential Japanese dish, also called omusubi, onigiri are a portable treat that are enjoyed on their own or as part of a bento box lunch. Learning how to make onigiri is simple, can be done by hand, and doesn't require a sushi mat or any other tools. Although fish or vegetable fillings are common, you can also eat these rice balls plain.

The afternoon was spent learning how to make these hand shaped rice balls, experimenting with new and exciting ingredients and enjoying a delicious lunch! A special thank you to our co-founder Alexis for opening up her beautiful home to our community!

Want to learn how to make onigiri? You can of course ask Cecily and Alexis or click HERE for a tutorial from the Epicurious website.

The American Dream on Trial!

Birches middle school students fully embraced their roles in the recent mock trial to determine whether The American Dream still exists. Both the prosecution and the defense teams worked tirelessly to present critical evidence and to persuade the judge (the Honorable Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis) of the merits of their respective positions. Key witnesses for the Defense included Oprah Winfrey, Senator Daniel Inouye, and Dr. An Wang. For the prosecution, Langston Hughes, Alan Bates, and Felicity Huffman helped bolster their case. What was the verdict? Ask a middle school student to find out!

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Author Amy Bass Visits Birches School!

Amy Bass offered a writing workshop to some of our middle school students. After reading some passages from her book One Goal, she encouraged students to “show, not tell” by using the five senses to convey a scene. Students identified a memory and then chose one of the senses to convey their memory through writing. It was a thrill for our students to work so closely with such an accomplished writer!

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Field Trips! On March 12th our K/1 class visited the Planetarium at the Museum of Science and our 2/3 and 4/5 classes visited the Boston Society of Architects.

The 2/3 class worked with BSA Architect Taylor Johnson on a super green ‘roofs’ design challenge that culminated in building a model garden roof.

The 2/3 class worked with BSA Architect Taylor Johnson on a super green ‘roofs’ design challenge that culminated in building a model garden roof.

Our 4/5 class worked with BSA Architect Polly Carpenter on a Skyscraper Project.

Our 4/5 class worked with BSA Architect Polly Carpenter on a Skyscraper Project.

Our K/1 class blasted off on their space-themed field trip to the Museum of Science.

Our K/1 class blasted off on their space-themed field trip to the Museum of Science.

Double Plank Pose in Yoga Class!

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Birches students become adept in many areas, including yoga! We offer rigorous, nature-based, interdisciplinary academics within a mindful, nurturing environment. Our collaborative approach to learning and life will stand all our students in good stead as they grow and mature. It has been estimated that two-thirds of the jobs current elementary and middle school students will have in the future have not yet been invented! What is sure is that being able to work well in teams will be essential to many of these new vocations.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Since their return to school in early January, middle school students have been studying immigration from China and Japan into the United States. The first student presentation in this unit took place today, focusing on the significance of the lion in Chinese culture. Because today is Chinese Lunar New Year, middle schoolers created a lion head out of cardboard and two teams of students processed through the school, demonstrating their interpretation of the lion dance performed in China and in Chinatowns throughout the world on this auspicious day. Please join the Kindergarten/1st Grade class as they enjoy the Birches lion dance here!

Middle Schoolers Visit the Harvard Biology Lab

On January 24th, Birches Middle School students were invited to the Biological Laboratories at Harvard University. While there, students participated in an interactive lecture given by Professor Karine Gibbs and her graduate student Jacob Austerman. The trip was planned as an extension of the essential question we have been exploring in class: How do we identify self from other? In science, students have been focusing on human interaction with microbes and looking at how microbes can be recognized as either friend or foe. The Gibbs Lab works on identifying the signals bacterial cells use to recognize each other, how cells define themselves, and how they communicate their identity and respond to others. Students were particularly interested in the swords that bacteria use to jab into one another! Following the lecture, students crossed the street for a visit to the Harvard Museum of Natural History where they viewed the exhibit, Microbial Life: A Universe on the Edge of Sight.

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The Bear Came Back!

Two years ago, science teachers Bev Malone and Jane Imai visited Birches with a black bear skeleton to teach the kindergarten and first grade students about the similarities between human and bear skeletons during our Human Body unit. Today, Jane returned with the bear skeleton to culminate the K/1s’ bear unit! The students once again compared the bones to a human skeleton and figured out how to assemble each section of the bear from the scull and jaw to its ribcage and leg bones. Next, Jane showed a slideshow of Bev’s discovery of the bear, found while on a fishing trip on a remote lake decades ago. We learned that the bear was found on tribal land and Bev had to get special permission to take the skeleton back to her science class. We also learned that this was why she was only allowed to take a few of the claws—the rest she left behind since they were sacred to the tribe. The students loved seeing the claws in person and also liked seeing the different teeth a bear has—both flat teeth for eating plants and berries, but also sharp front teeth for biting and tearing meat, very important for an omnivore!

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It was an incredible hands-on experience for the students to see and touch a “real” bear in person and learn about the similarities and differences between humans and bears. This is the K/1s’ final week studying bears before we blast off to space next week!

Back to School and On the Move!

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Birches Middle Schoolers have begun a unit on immigration from China and Japan into the United States. Last week we visited the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem to view the exhibition focused on empresses of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). We are learning about symbolism in traditional Chinese culture as we study the first wave of Chinese immigration in the 19th century. We also visited Yin Yu Tang (“Hall of Plentiful Shelter”), the over 200-year-old house from South China that was disassembled in Anhui Province and then reassembled in Salem about twenty years ago. The Huang family of merchants occupied this house for eight generations, including through the entire 19th century. Below you see some of our students looking out of a second-floor window of this beautiful old wooden house. The process of disassembling, shipping, conserving, and reassembling the house took three years!

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Emergency Room Physician Visits Birches

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Students in the 4/5 classroom continued their study of the human body with the help of a special guest straight from the ER. Also a Birches parent, Dr. Milsten brought along many models of bones, various tools used in the ER, and even a full skeleton! Students enjoyed learning interesting facts about bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They even got a chance to practice their surgical skills with alligator forceps (to pull an item out of an imaginary ear) and a cauterization tool (to mimic treatment of an injured fingernail). One student came away from the experience with a splinted forearm which students then signed. It was a wonderful exploration into orthopedics and emergency medicine.