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 Erin Miller 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!
The Science Carnival and Robot Zoo was held on Saturday, April 15th, 2017. It is the largest event of the Cambridge Science Festival, with over 15,000 visitors. Twelve of our 4th, 5th, & 6th Graders were happy to be among the participants! Birches students did a remarkable job explaining their sleep research project and presenting their carefully designed posters to visitors who stopped by our table. Ours was the largest group of elementary school students presenting at the Festival. Many young scientists do not get the opportunity to present posters at a fair like this until they are in high school or college.
How much sleep do I really need? Do daytime activities such as yoga, exercise, or caffeine affect my sleep? Do nighttime activities such as screen-time, journaling, or reading affect the time it takes for me to fall asleep? Birches School students probe these and other interesting questions in a classroom-wide sleep and journaling project. Join us at the 2017 Cambridge Science Festival and Carnival on April 15th from noon to 4pm as we outline the details of crafting a questionnaire, designing a protocol, and analyzing group data. We’ll help you to make your own sleep journal!
Professor Rock has disappeared! His loyal students go on a quest to find him, joined by the (mostly unhelpful) Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Along the way, they meet volcanoes, seashores, canyons, dinosaurs, suspicious ferns, and even Snow White -- and learn about the earth's geological cycles and features as they go. Who's behind Professor Rock's disappearance, and will he ever be found? (Hint: Don't trust those ferns who represent the interests of fossil fuels!)
On Friday, March 31, Birches students performed their third annual musical under the brilliant direction of music and drama specialist Laura Bak. Everyone participated, including the kindergartners and first graders who were fearsome dinosaurs. Below, three kindergartners reprise their roles after the play.
When some of us visited our new property at 100 Bedford Road today, we found a friend staring in a window. You can't see the young deer's mother...we had to kneel down and peer at her through the rhododendron bushes. Mom was smart enough to keep her distance, but her offspring was more curious. At Birches, we welcome curious students. Should we admit this young deer to Birches?
Last November, the Rural Land Foundation (Lincoln Land Trust) and Birches School purchased the 16-acre property at 100 Bedford Road that had, for 60 years, been the home of Dr. An Wang and his wife Lorraine. Today, residents of Lincoln, representing the Town's Parks and Recreation Department, voted unanimously to purchase three acres to build an athletic field adjacent to Birches' four acres. The remaining nine acres will be put into conservation, connecting with already existing conservation land. Our students will have access to the athletic field and of course to the network of trails through conservation land. When they study Thoreau, they will be able to walk through the woods all the way to Walden Pond. We at Birches School are very grateful for our collaboration with the Lincoln Land Trust and the Town of Lincoln!
The Kindergartners and 1st Graders celebrated the end of their Medieval Unit with a medieval "faire" during which squires were knighted by Queen Florentien. In this exciting study, students built a castle and learned about castle architecture and castle life. They learned about pulleys when they investigated the engineering of castle drawbridges and they constructed catapults. They created their own medieval portraits and their own shields which they decorated with personal designs. And they learned about the Code of Chivalry which dovetails with our social-emotional curriculum. Children learn to be kind, respectful, honest, fair, and hardworking. They learn to recognize these qualities in themselves and in their classmates as they cheer each other on.
After looking at examples of nature journals, students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth-grade class each collected two small, intriguing items on a nature walk. Then they returned to school to begin careful observational drawings and a compare and contrast Venn diagram list of all the objects.
and we went to Pierce Park to look for the first signs of spring! Then we enjoyed physical education on the big field there.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, a Birches father helped students, teachers, and parents build an igloo on our playground. See below for some pictures that show different stages of the process. We are all thrilled with our winter hideaway! It was such fun to engage collaboratively in this engineering project and then to crawl inside and peek out!
Happy Snow Day from Birches! Earlier this week, the Kindergartners and 1st Graders took advantage of Tuesday's snowfall to make a huge nine-foot snowman. Chants of "Teamwork! Teamwork!" resounded as they pushed and heaved to roll each massive ball. We hope you enjoy today's snowstorm -- please stay safe and warm. See you tomorrow for more snowy adventures!
Rebecca Rapoport is a Mathematics Specialist at Birches School. Birches students "tested" some of the activities in this wonderful book, which is illustrated with pictures of Birches students at work. Here is further information about the book:
Math Lab for Kids shares more than 50 hands-on activities that make learning about math fun by drawing and building shapes, solving puzzles, and playing games. Everything you need to complete the activities can be found in the book or around your house.
- Geometry and Topology—build, draw, and transform shapes. Play with prisms, antiprisms, Platonic solids, Möbius strips, and squeezable, squishable shapes.
- Maps—color like a mathematician. Discover how to fill in maps with the fewest number of colors possible.
- Curves and Fractals—stitch, draw, and create. Make curves using only straight lines, and repeat shapes to create fantastic fractals.
- Tangrams, Toothpick Puzzles, and Nim—play, solve, and win. Learn to play—and discover strategies to solve and win—these time-honored brain teasers and games.
- Graph Theory—make connections. Explore how points and edges are interconnected by drawing graphs.
For further information on publications by Birches faculty, staff, and students, see: