Birches students have published an illustrated poetry anthology. This is the first page, the illustrated text to the school song that they wrote collaboratively. The pictures show (at bottom) children on a nature walk with their teachers near the old stone church which is our home; and (at top) children working at a desk, reading in a reading nook, and playing outside on the playground.
We had a wonderful adventure with artist Jane Marsching today. We met Jane at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln where she showed us her field station installation for citizen scientists (like us). We listened attentively while Jane (in the middle of this picture) talked about gathering information from the natural world through observation and through making such things as pictures and maps. Then we took a nature hike from the deCordova back to Birches, observing the leaf-out drama in trees around us (we saw four different stages of leaf-out on one tree alone). We picked up bits of nature that lay on our path back to school. Then we made artworks incorporating our finds, using a lovely brownish ink that Jane had made from walnuts!
Here, a Birches student shows Jane a card he made, using the walnut ink to outline spaces in which he will paste his treasures--bits of birch bark, leaves, acorn tops, and so on. Jane will move her field station around the deCordova grounds every month through the summer. Please go meet her at the museum. It's lots of fun to talk with her. She's a wonderful teacher!
We are back at school after Spring Break continuing our study of water. We created this diorama of a pond after exploring ponds and their inhabitants near our school. In the back of our diorama is a beaver dam (we know all about beavers as you will discover if you look down this blog). Under the blue cellophane representing water in this diorama you will find water plants, pebbles, fish, salamanders, even a beaver. The frog with black eyes and a white head in the center-foreground hopped up onto a lily pad to say hello.
Since February, Birches students have been studying poetry of all kinds. Last week in music, students made the connection between poetic verse and musical lyrics. With the guidance of Colleen, our yoga and music teacher, students crafted two verses of their own school song. Through this process they learned about rhyme, rhythm, and the importance of creative collaboration. The kids loved the process and can often be heard humming a few bars from their new song during the school day.
Now it is April vacation and we'll see you back at school on April 22!
We received a picture from the family of this little girl who will enter Kindergarten at Birches in the fall. Just think what stories she will have to tell about Costa Rica where the family is living for a year! Since the temperature is in the mid-thirties today in the Boston area, it is nice to think about children and monkeys frolicking in the tropics!
After building waterfalls outside (see blog post below), the students decided to construct dams to catch the flowing water. Then we got to talking about animals who build dams. We were on to beavers! We read books about beavers and then thought it would be fun to try to build our own beaver-like dams. We divided up into groups and constructed beaver dams with mud, twigs, straw, and leaves. At the end, we poured water into the constructions to firm them up. Birches students are really eager beavers!
After visiting the deCordova Rain Gates (see blog post below), the students wanted to construct their own waterfalls. We divided the children into teams to construct waterfalls and streams. Each team had an equal amount of bricks, logs, and wooden blocks. They could build to a maximum of 24" tall and had to construct something that water could flow through. The groups went to work and you can imagine the discussions and challenges they faced. By the time 10 a.m. rolled around, two of the three groups were well on their way. One group was so interested in building a structure high, they had to rebuild it many times over because of the continuous collapses. Some other challenges that arose were erosion, absorption, and structural integrity. There were times when we would pour water down the fall and immediately the water would seep through the sand. After incorporating leaves and rocks, the students had better results!
We are beginning a new unit on water. After studying the water cycle, we went to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum to look for evidence of water--snow, icy streams, rivulets, puddles, the Rain Gates. Here we are making observational drawings of the Rain Gates and getting ideas for future Investigations!
Math took place today just before snack. We juiced different fresh fruits and vegetables--oranges, grapefruits, lemons, apples, carrots. We counted the number of fruits and vegetables we used and we measured how many cups of juice we obtained from each. We graphed these results and then we did extension math problems based on our findings. Some of us dealt with fractions and also calculated the conversion from cups to ounces. Finally it was snack time and we got to drink the freshly-squeezed juice, trying different fruit combinations. Delicious!
We end posts about our bird unit with a view of the red-tailed hawk brought to visit Birches by a Mass Audubon interpreter. We have become very fond of red-tailed hawks, seeing them first in our garden last summer. See this blog from last July. Our bird unit was an example of student-centered or student-driven learning. The children wanted to learn more about birds, so we enlarged and deepened our curriculum in this area.
At the end of our bird unit, students presented their work to the class. This Kindergartner researched the blue jay (and also made a wonderful paper mache blue jay). The picture tells you a lot about our classroom. Each child researched a different bird and described and illustrated findings in an individual report. Finally, it was time to publish the reports, and the authors were excited to present their findings to the class. Each child learned how to present research in front of a group and also how to be a good listener during others' presentations. This sensitivity and respect towards classmates is an example of the "Responsive Classroom."
We had a visit from a wonderful Mass Audubon bird expert. She brought three birds, one of them a screech owl. We knew from our earlier study of owls that these birds have hollow bones and special feathers, making it easy for them to fly quickly and soundlessly through the night sky in search of prey.
We also learned that an owl can hear a mouse rustling in the grass as far as a mile away. An owl has extraordinary hearing because of paired ears on either side of its head that are oriented in different directions. The owl's flat face acts like a satellite dish, gathering sound waves that are directed to its ears by stiff feathers around the edge of the facial disk. What look like pointed ears on top of the head of the screech owl are not ears at all, but rather tufts of feathers. What a cunning little owl. We were so glad he came to visit! Here is a fascinating recent article about owls.
Today marked our hundredth day of school! Children brought in a hundred things from home...buttons, paper clips, beads, dried beans, legos, and so on. We counted, sorted, weighed, and measured our items, remarking on how the same quantity of items can have such different volumes and masses. We then pranced out to the snowy field near school and saw how far we could go taking 100 steps. Big steps, little steps, side steps, skipping steps, fast steps, slow steps all got us different distances.
One of our parents teaches Birches students how to play chess every Thursday after school. It is amazing to see five-, six-, and seven-year-olds focus on the intricacies of this game. We are fortunate indeed to have such an involved parent body on whose expertise we can draw.
A recent article in The Telegraph reports research suggesting that reading reduces stress. The author of the article comments: "Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart." It is more relaxing to read than to listen to music, have a cup of tea, or take a walk. At Birches, children enjoy Reading Workshop every day. It is inspiring to watch children scattered around the classroom, some reading silently to themselves, others reading with a teacher or with a reading partner. The concentration and pleasure emanating from the classroom seem almost palpable. Now we know another reason why.
This is a detail of a long collaborative artwork covering one of our walls. Students have been studying the appearances of birds as part of our bird study. After doing scientific drawings, we looked at birds through a more creative lens. The children created these spectacular birds using watercolors and crayons. Each student drew designs and patterns in crayon on a large sheet of paper. Then they painted multicolor watercolor washes over the patterns, creating bold color combinations and designs. When the papers dried, the children cut out bodies, wings, tails, and heads, sometimes using templates, sometimes not. Perched on branches suggesting a forest, the birds have unique personalities. Many are interpretations of real birds we’ve seen outside.
This article from The Washington Post speaks to the skills children acquire from expressing themselves through the arts.
One of our Birches parents is an expert at creating bird calls. This week she came to morning meeting to share the sounds of the mourning dove and the nightingale. Her nightingale call is eerily realistic, created by blowing on a piece of paper-thin birch bark. Please listen.
The students dissected owl pellets, discovering the fur and bones of owls' prey which the owls had spit out through their mouths. They sorted the bones in categories and identified them, mounted them, and then drew pictures of owls to complete the display above.