We are making great progress in our renovations and new construction at 100 Bedford Road. The sheet rock is up and the walls are being plastered. It is particularly exciting to see the multi-purpose room taking shape (below). This room will be used for our expanded arts program and the acoustics will enhance musical and dramatic performances!
Although there was a little snow on the ground this past week, second through fourth graders had lots to observe and record in their science notebooks when they visited vernal pools in the woods near school. We will be returning here often as spring blooms and more and more creatures emerge. Here is one friendly fellow who braved the chilly weather to say hello.
The sixth and seventh graders wrote their own version of the traditional Rumpelstiltskin story to precede the modern musical version performed by the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Here the scheming Rumpelstiltskin offers to "help" the miller's daughter spin straw into gold so that he can claim her first-born child. Look at that amazing spinning wheel. It was made by a sixth grader and her father! Now we move on to the modern musical.
In the modern version, Rumpelstiltskin and his friends refuse to help the young woman spin straw into gold. They say she has to persevere with confidence and learn how to do this seemingly impossible job herself. She must embrace failure along the path and remain steadfast. The rollicking musical ends on a high note as our heroine finally achieves her goal!
And thanks to a Birches grandfather for these wonderful photographs!
Over the past several weeks, fifth through seventh graders have been examining myths, legends, and fairytales peopled with heroes and villains (and monsters). The class has explored the meanings behind stories and the cultures from which the stories come. Now each student has chosen a specific tale and begun the process of learning more about the culture informing that tale. After answering pointed research questions, they will write an analysis, explaining how their story is a reflection of its culture.
One fifth-grader chose to research the Irish legend of Fionn Mac Cumhail, the hunter-warrior who, with his band of followers, is imagined to have built the Giant's Causeway. This is a good story for today--Saint Patrick's Day! Here is a picture of the Giant's Causeway in northern Ireland.
Things are moving right along at 100 Bedford Road. Siding is being added to the exterior walls of the new and renovated buildings. A caretaker apartment is being installed above one of the classrooms. Skilled carpenters have just added a handsome staircase leading to the caretaker apartment. As spring approaches, the photographs of our new school will get more and more vivid. We are almost there!
Today was a banner day! Bonnie Ricci began her first day of work as Head of Birches School! Fifth and sixth graders are explaining their current projects to Bonnie. We couldn't be more excited to have Bonnie at our helm!
The fifth, sixth, and seventh graders decided to have a proper tea party (with scones and clotted cream among other treats) during regular snack time to celebrate Valentine's Day. Students wore hats or ornaments and brought in real tea cups from home. What fun!
Every year the creative teachers in the combined Kindergarten and 1st Grade classroom work with their students to make a quilt reflecting some aspect of the curriculum. This year the youngest students in our school studied tide pools as part of the autumn all-school Oceans Unit. The children designed and appliqued images onto their quilt, practicing sewing and embroidering skills. They are rightly proud of their work. We now have a collection of quilts from the last years which we expect to hang in the large multi-purpose room at our new school at 100 Bedford Road. This will be an exciting display!
Last week, our wonderful Spanish teacher Maria Maroto arranged for the 5/6/7 class to skype with fifth graders in Spain whose teacher is Maria's mother-in-law. For almost an hour, our students spoke in Spanish with their new "skype pals."
The Spanish students had prepared lessons for Birches students, as you can see from the photograph below. This seems to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship and we look forward to our next skype session with Spain!
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!