Second and third graders easily settled into their first week of school. Here some students are reading their "just right" books while the classroom pet, a bearded dragon named Argyle, loafs in his terrarium. We are outside a lot during the day, sometimes playing, sometimes exploring, sometimes having discussions in our outdoor classrooms, as you can see below. At Birches, students raise their thumbs when they want to make a comment or answer a question.
We opened our doors at 100 Bedford Road today after a year and a half of renovation and new construction. It was a joyful day, spent getting used to new classrooms and exploring the play spaces and woods surrounding our school. This is a dream come true! Kindergartners and first graders were wide-eyed and both serious and excited as they began their year getting to know each other, their teachers and their classroom, as you can see in the photograph below. Our year is off to a marvelous start!
Birches has received a grant from Harvard's Asia Center to develop an interdisciplinary middle school curriculum on immigration from China and Japan (1790-present day). We were inspired to develop this unit because in a few weeks we will move to 100 Bedford Road, the former home of Dr. An Wang, a famous computer pioneer. We will study Dr. Wang and also other immigrants from China and Japan, both known and unknown. Our older students will grapple with issues having to do with immigration, including topics such as exclusion and inclusion.
Today is the last day of school. We wish you a wonderful summer and look forward to resuming blog posts in the fall.
In collaboration with scientists from Harvard Forest, fourth through seventh grade students will contribute to the long-term research project entitled: Our Changing Forest.
This week students identified and marked trees within a 10 x 10 meter study plot (at 100 Bedford Road). We will continue tracking of our survey plot for years to come; activities will include data collection and analysis of tree diameter, plant identification, and wildlife sightings. We are excited to be collaborating with Harvard Forest as citizen scientists!
The Kindergartners and 1st Graders walked to nearby Pierce Park last Friday where they observed the pond teeming with life. The field is covered in dandelions now, and this first grade boy taught the children how to make dandelion chains. The children came back to school beautifully adorned!
For the third April in a row, Birches School participated in the Cambridge Science Festival. Eighteen of our students (the largest number ever) blended science and technology curriculum by leading visitors through three exhibitions. By utilizing a range sensor and a vibrating motor, hardwear provided by Boston Embedded, students designed The Code Cracker : a gesture lock for opening electronic doors; The Portable Personal Alarm : a device for protecting personal belongings; and The Maze Navigator : a blindfolded sensor-and-vibration game. Congratulations to our Science Specialist Katherine Parisky and to our Engineering and Software Specialist Andrea Krajewska for their guidance in this curriculum.
Last week we gathered to celebrate the end of our world storytelling unit with a whole school international cooking extravaganza. Five groups representing five continents set out in the morning to make several dishes typical of each continent. Led by parent volunteers and staff, the groups whipped up quite a feast by lunchtime! The meal included everything from sushi, dumplings, and homemade pasta, to salsas, meat pies, a Moroccan tagine, and much more. We then sampled these new flavors from around the world. Thank you to all who made this wonderful meal possible. We're looking forward to more culinary adventures in the future!
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: