Grade VII Biology: Let them eat cake!

VII Mitosis Cake Project













Grade VII Biology students explore structures called organelles that comprise the eukaryotic plant and animal cells. Students learn about the nucleus which houses chromosomes containing inherited material called genes. Students learn the importance of replicating this information so that new cells can be generated for growth. This is a difficult process for MS students to conceptualize and calls for diverse experiential learning opportunities.

Many years ago, I worked with a Baldwin Director of Academic Technology, Robert White, who would observe classes to help teachers integrate technology. Out of his visits to my classroom came collaborations resulting in projects aiding students to practice and learn difficult biological processes. Although the project has undergone many revisions over the years, my students are still studying cell reproduction using the Mitosis HyperStudio Project.

Using Roger Wagner’s HyperStudio 5.0 software and teacher generated illustrations, students create an ordered stack of cards identifying and describing the steps of the mitosis process. The project serves as a study tool for the students to learn this sophisticated process. The project is evaluated by me, the biology teacher, and later by students in the Grade XI Biology classes, following their study of mitosis. Two grades benefit from this joint project that was developed following a technology workshop attended by Christie Reed, Grade XI Biology teacher, and myself. At that workshop, we heard that students perform better when they know that their work will reach an audience wider than their teacher. Grade VII students receive written feedback from the evaluators. The Grade XI students have the opportunity to use the evaluation as a review of their understanding of mitosis in order to write meaningful critiques of the projects.

Still, this opportunity for story-telling is not quite enough to understand such a complex process. This year, I engaged the students in some role-play to understand the transitions through the phases of mitosis, particularly, prophase through anaphase. “I got it,” was the exclamation I heard from several students. To cap off the experiential learning, students decorated single layer cakes with Gummy Spaghetti, Smarties, and mini marshmallows to demonstrate the phases of mitosis. The best part for me was taking photos of their efforts. Of course, the best part for them was eating the cake. Note: We wore gloves to assure cleanliness. Through the photos, I hoped to share the fun with the Baldwin community. To see more photos, please visit and click on the Grade VII Mitosis Cake Project album.


Susan Dorfman

Teacher of Grade VII Biology and Grade XII Advanced Biology

Kicking Good Study Habits into High Gear this Fall

While cleaning my classroom for the summer and thinking ahead to the start of term, I re-read an article I had hung on my bulletin board last September. The Sept. 7, 2010 New York Times article titled, “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits,” reminded me that we teachers and parents can’t rely on popular theories alone to help our students and daughters reach their potentials. In addition, we need to rely on intuition that comes from experience in the classroom and living with the child.  The child benefits when teachers and parents enter into dialogue based on trust and the desire to work as a team to support the girls.

Dissecting a human brain in Dr. Dorfman's AP biology class.

Getting back to the educational theories, teachers and parents need to rely on study plans “based on evidence, not school-yard folk wisdom, or empty theorizing,” according to Benedict Carey who interviewed cognitive research scientists Robert A. Bjork from the University of California, Daniel T. Willingham from the University of Virginia, Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor from the University of South Florida, Nate Kornell from Williams College, and Henry L. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke from Washington University. Using their own research and that of other scientists in the field, these psychologists demonstrated that little experimental evidence exists for some of the notions considered to be ‘sound advice’ for studying and learning techniques. For example, take the notion of learning styles; visual and auditory learners; left-brain or right-brain students. A team of psychologists found no evidence to support the “enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credibility for its utility.” They found a similar lack of evidence for the importance of teaching styles. Dr. Willingham notes that, “we have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere.” Even for individual learning, psychologists have refuted the standard advice on study habits. For example, Dr. Willingham, in a commentary, “Brain Science in the Classroom,” in the September 2012 issue of Scientific American, suggests that quizzing for content retention is a more effective study tool than highlighting and rereading.

So what do we educators and parents do to help students? First, keep in mind that no one can predict how student traits, teaching styles, personalities, and household rules will interact; we just know that they will interact. Mr. Carey reports that cognitive scientists have shown “effective approaches to learning” that “can reliably improve …how much a student learns from studying.”

1. Vary the study location. “Simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention….The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time.” Dr. Bjork says that, “when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting.”

2.  Study “distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.” Athletes and musicians already incorporate a mixture into their practice sessions. The article suggests mixing vocabulary, reading, and speaking practice in a single sitting when learning a new language.  When learning biology, I would suggest mixing vocabulary practice, reading about concepts, and solving problems in one sitting. The rationale for this according to Dr. Rohrer is, “a student seeing a list of problems of the same kind” will “know the strategy to use before they even read the problem….With mixed practice. …kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure – just like…on a test.” Dr. Kornell asserts that, “the brain is picking up deeper patterns when seeing assortments….”

3.  Cramming may lead to a better test grade, but the information will not be retained when the student moves to a more advanced class. It seems that the amount of time a student spends on the material is not as important as the “spacing” of the study sessions. “Spacing improves later recall.”

4.  According to cognitive scientists, “testing is a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment….The process of retrieving an idea….seems to fundamentally alter the way information is stored, making it more accessible in the future.” Like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics”, Dr. Roediger says “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it.” Research suggests the degree of difficulty of tests “makes them such effective study tools.” In other words, “the harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget.”

5. To be better prepared for future tests, study vocabulary every day. Study in two directions. Say the word and give the meaning, and then read the meaning and say the word that matches. Review the technical vocabulary every night. Familiarity with the words and their meanings should help you with application of these words on tests.

6. Study out loud. Your notes should read like a story so that you can study by telling the stories of the biological processes we study in class.

7. Take notes during class discussions. Ideas that you understand in class may be forgotten by the time you study the material.

8. Daily review will help you to identify the ideas you do not understand, such as osmosis, so that you can ask specific questions in class and during tutorials prior to tests. At home, review each evening the technical vocabulary and work discussed in class that day. Write down any questions you have about that day’s class, so that you can ask the questions in class the next day.

9. Study out loud by asking yourself the questions in the Chapter Guide and then studying the answers we discussed in class. Test your ideas by participating more during class discussions.

10. Schedule meetings with your science teacher when your questions are not answered in class and to make sure you understand all directions given in class. Honor the appointments!

11. Always have your assignment book with you in class. Copy the assignments and check them when they are completed. Use the assignment book and your schedule to pack your book bag each evening in order to make sure you are prepared for class and to avoid penalties for work handed-in late.

12. Use test/exam review handouts to assure that you study all the required topics. Check off the topics as you study and learn them. Remember that daily review takes the stress out of preparing for a test. Don’t cram. Study spread out over multiple sessions will help with retention for the test as well as for future tests in the same course and higher level courses.

 — Susan Dorfman, Teacher of Grade VII Biology and Grade XII Advanced Biology







A Trek through India

The landscape of Ladakh in the Himalayan Mountains.

Earlier this summer, I traveled to India with two Baldwin students, Kristine Rojo and Heather Brown, and one Haverford student, Eric Petersen.  We spent two weeks visiting several locations, getting a taste of Indian culture, history, and food. 

We spent our first day in Dehli, the capital of India and home to nearly 17 million people.  We began by visiting Gurukul, the School, on the outskirts of Dehli.  We were greeted in grand fashion and treated to an introduction of Indian culture in the form of food and dance.  We also got to know some of the students and learned a lot about education in India.

One of the many prayer wheels seen in the monasteries of Leh.

After a wonderful lunch with the students and staff at the school, we visited the ashram where Ghandi was assassinated.  Ghandi is extremely important to Indians not just as a spiritual figure, but also a political one.  It was Ghandi who led India to its freedom from colonial rule by the British.  To the United States, Ghandi is also an important figure because he inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to use non-violence as a means for achieving his goal of civil rights.

After visiting the ashram, we headed out to visit Humayan’s Tomb.  The tomb was built in the 16th century, at a time when India was ruled by Mughuls and when culture flourished.  The tomb is similar to the Taj Mahal, a sight we would see later.  The tomb was a nice introduction to the architecture of the period. 

The next day, we flew to Leh in Ladakh, located in the Himalayan Mountains.  The climate and landscape of Leh was quite different than Dehli.  The temperatures in Dehli were around 110 or so.  In Leh, the temperature only reached the 70s and it was chilly enough at night to need a jacket and long pants.  The culture in Leh is different as well.  It is Buddhist, as opposed to Hindu.  All around Leh are many monasteries are still functioning and populated by many monks.  Some of the monasteries date back to the 11th or 12th century.  Stupas and prayer wheels can be found everywhere.

The terrain in Ladakh is rugged and mountainous.  It’s a desert and the only green is near the Indus River and its tributaries.  There is some farming of potatoes and apricots as well as other vegetables.  The growing season is incredibly short.  There are also cows, yaks and sheep that are raised for milk, meat and fur.  There are also Dzos, which are a cross between a yak and a sheep.  They are really cute!

Riding elephants through Amber Fort.

While in Leh, we visited the Moravian Mission School and spent time with their students, learning about their culture and daily life.  We also worked with them on technology issues, and hope to start blogging with them when our school year begins.  We also visited the SECMOL School, where students learn about the environment and create a sustainable living in the desert.  They use solar power to heat their school in the winter, cook, and even run their computers.  Nothing is wasted, and the environment is preserved.

After six days in Leh, we flew back to Dehli and drove to Agra.  Along the way, we could see smaller towns where many vendors selling mangoes, coconuts, and spices lined the streets.  There were also eateries called Dhabas, where travelers could stop for a good meal.  After arriving in Agra, we took advantage of the hotel pool to cool off.  We then had a wonderful buffet dinner.  The next morning, we set off for the Taj Mahal at 5:00 a.m.  It is as amazing as everyone says it is.  The structure itself is magnificent, made entirely of marble.  Much of it is carved into intricate designs or inlaid with semi-precious stones, making it a true work of art.

That afternoon, we visited the Red Fort, created by the same man who created the Taj Mahal.  It, too, is a work of art, covered with lots of carved, inlaid, and painted details.  Some of those details have disappeared over time, but you can still see much of it, and envision what an impressive and imposing structure the fort was.  From the Red Fort, we visited Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned city constructed by Akbar.  Its architecture is similar to the Red Fort’s, though it is more expansive.  It was originally conceived as the location for consolidating Akbar’s empire; however, he abandoned it in 1585 to attend to other parts of his kingdom.

Amber Fort in Jaipur.

The next day, we were in Jaipur, where we rode elephants up to the Amber Fort.  This complex was quite large and beautiful, another impressive accomplishment of the Mughul empire.  After touring around the fort, we ate lunch and then went to an observatory, which had many astronomical instruments, showing a keen interest by the Indians in science.  The sundials and other instruments were surprisingly accurate as well as beautifully constructed.

After seeing several other sites in Jaipur, we made our way back to Dehli for our final bit of touring.  We traveled by rickshaw to a mosque, and then visited the Ghandi memorial.  After that, we went to the Bhai Temple.  We ended the day with a relaxing lunch in a beautiful setting.  Then it was time to pack and head to the airport for the long journey back to the United States.  We had a wonderful time.  We all learned a lot, ate some really good food, and made quite a few friends.  India was quite an experience.

To read more about Laura’s travels through India, visit her blog, ‘India Adventure’.

 — Laura Blankenship, Computer Science Coordinator







Top Ten Tips for Parents of Science Students

Baldwin girls share special projects with family on Middle School Science Night.

Over the years we asked the parents of science students who excelled academically throughout the course of the school year, “What worked?”  Now we want to pass on their top ten tips to the parents of other science-minded students, with a few added bonus tips from Baldwin science teachers and The National Science Teachers Association: 

1) Act like you love science.  After all science, engineering and technical training are where the money is in terms of scholarships and jobs. If your child knows that you think learning science is important, they will excel.  Remind your child that many of the world’s problems: hunger, lack of clean drinking water, pollution, HIV, nuclear proliferation, will only be solved by people with great hearts and some scientific understanding.

2) Set aside one spot in a central part of your house where homework quietly happens before dinner.  During this time keep the social media, TV, and phones off if possible.  Adults can read quietly while children do their homework.  This is the most effective way to raise grades that I know of.  It is a lot to ask our students to go alone in their rooms and ignore computers, televisions, phones and music. 

3)  Spend time helping your child get their work organized every day.  Organization is something that is an especially hard routine for some middle school students.  It will lead to an improvement in grades very quickly.

4) Look at your child’s planner every day, if there is nothing written in it, require them to get it signed by the teacher every day until they are in the habit of writing down their assignments. 

5) Help with flashcards whenever you are stuck in traffic or waiting for something.

6) Praise your child for being a hard worker more than anything else.  Offer praise for actions rather than for grades.

7) Talk about times that you have worked hard to learn something new. Sometimes students don’t realize that adults have to learn new things all the time.  Make sure that your children know that learning how to teach themselves is the most important skill they can learn.

8)  Make sure your child exchanges phone numbers with other students in case they have a question about a homework assignment in the evening. 

9) Email or phone the teacher if you have any concerns. An administrator will have to contact the teacher to answer your questions or concerns anyway.

10) Visit the classroom on parent visiting days or special evenings such as Middle School Science Night.  Seeing you there even once will change your student’s attitude about science.

11) Host study sessions at your house.  Supply the food and a place free from the television.  The best students do not study alone.

12) Whenever possible coach children on how to ask teachers for what they need instead of doing the asking for them. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won’t but the skill of politely standing up for one’s self to authority is an important skill for life.

13) Allow your child to take responsibility for their actions, good and bad.  If you don’t allow students to own up to their mistakes they won’t really believe you when you give them credit for their successes.

14) Don’t ask your child to carry your ‘baggage’.  If one of your old science teachers was horrible, don’t dwell on it.  Talk about the teachers that taught you something valuable so that your child views education as a positive, not a negative.

15) Take a walk as a family at a university campus whenever possible.  On a Saturday morning colleges such as Princeton, UPenn, Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Villanova are filled with parents of very young children who want their kids to know from an early age where they are headed. Imagine growing up feeling like the buildings and grounds of Haverford College are amongst your family’s special places.  The nature trail at Haverford College is a fun place for a family walk, and a great place to get started.

 — Susan Dorfman, Upper School Biology teacher







A Look at Senior Externships 2012

Graduating seniors Elena Saltzman and Mable Bakali peform a scene.

In May, every senior participates in a three week Externship which provides a unique opportunity to explore all kinds of professions, either as a possible career or simply out of general interest. Seniors have worked with judges and doctors, learned to make croissants in a bakery, sung opera in a restaurant, played with children and with animals, and worked in a recording studio.

This year, Leah Silverman and Lauren Cooper wrote, directed, and produced their own plays. During their externship time, they worked with several faculty members on set design and script writing, and got students from several neighboring schools to perform. On the evening of June 6 in the Residence Assembly Room, the girls debuted these plays in front of students, parents, faculty and friends to great acclaim!

 — Pooh Gephart, Upper School Dean of Students







An African Safari in Baldwin's Backyard

Baldwin's Grade I explorers prepare for their 'flight' to Kenya.

The Grade I class went on an African Safari on June 4, to scout out animals native to Kenya in their pretend exploration.

To prepare for the journey, each student explorer packed a suitcase filled with pretend Kenyan shillings, a paper camera, a map of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, a plane ticket and a passport she had designed in Technology class.

Before ‘boarding’ the plane, each student at a Smarties candy, which served as a pseudo malaria tablet in the activity, and was administered a fake shot in their upper arm.

While on the safari, the students were presented with a check list of animals they had to scout out, including lions, zebras, elephants, monkeys, warthogs, and impala.  Dressed in traditional khaki-colored safari vests and hats, and with binoculars at hand, the girls trekked around Baldwin’s sprawling campus, checking the ‘wild’ animals off their list as they spotted them.

View photos from the African safari in our Media Gallery.

–Missy Morgan, Grade I teacher

Naturalization Ceremony

On May 24, Grade V students participated in a Naturalization Ceremony with Judge Gene E.K. Pratter, a former Baldwin parent and trustee. This is a signature program for Baldwin’s fifth grade girls. Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch outside the Courthouse and walked past the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Carpenters Hall.

The Social Studies curriculum in Grade V explores the founding of great ancient civilizations on the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe and Mesoamerica. The girls study various influences – geographical, religious, political and cultural – on these civilizations. As the year progresses, the girls compare our civilization to those we study. At times, we appreciate these intriguing cultures that cannot but fill one with wonder and a desire to know more.  We all feel very grateful to live in this country and in this era. We also discuss the notion of belonging to any particular culture, perhaps more, of being a citizen, and the beginning of the rule of law. We just finished marveling at Hammurabi. We appreciated his reasoning for creating laws and shivered at how very tough some of these laws seemed to be.

In addition to curricular relevance, this program also allows students an inside look at the steps myself and other Baldwin teachers and students have taken to become naturalized citizens.

Grade V is the oldest in our Lower School. Good citizenship, leadership, and adhering to our core values are intricately tied to being a Baldwin girl. The new citizens have taken a huge step when they take the oath as new American citizens. Surely they have given much thought to what it means to be a good citizen, to leadership, and still honoring their heritage.

Anne-Mette Hansell, Grade V teacher

Art from Every Angle

The Middle School Art, Drama and Music departments came together on May 16 to showcase student talent through an end-of-year exhibition, concert and theater performance.  Art students channeled their creative energies into designing ceramic plates – molded in the likeness of influential female figures, conceptualizing and building “dwelling” spaces, or reworking the concepts of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in the works of noted painters, sculptors or other artistic visionaries.

The sixth grade art students studied Judy Chicago’s 1979 groundbreaking installation, The Dinner Party. The girls then chose their own heroine–either an influential female figure in history or popular culture, or a  personal role model.  Each student created a complete table setting of ceramic plates, cups, and cutlery, and a sewn placemat.  Chosen figures included Cleopatra, Marie Curie, Ruth Wakefield and J. K. Rowling.
Also on display was a “Dwelling” the seventh graders created from recycled materials. They not only thought about what the word “home” and personal/private space might mean, but they were also given an architectural challenge: only one right angle could be used. These dwellings varied from futuristic, whimsical homes, to rounded homes with satellite rooms, and even a few underground dwellings with tubes to connect the living spaces.

In Grade VIII, each student studied an artist and then recreated their work, with a twist. The class discussed common conceptions of “masculine” and “feminine” and then applied these ideas in a visual sense to modify or pay homage to their selected artist’s work.  Most often the students pushed the work away from the artist’s intent – either feminizing a male artist or masculinizing a female artist.  Students uncovered ideas of “masculinity” and “femininity” and how they translate to the visual appeal of a work of art.  The students explored different mediums and techniques to best express their creative vision.

Click here to view student art projects in our Media Gallery.

  — Janice Wilke, Art Department Head







2012 Spring Art Exhibition

The 2012 Spring Art Exhibition, which opened on Wednesday, April 18, is the highlight of the year for our student artists, and features a range of media and styles in the gallery spaces and art wing corridors of the Baldwin Residence. Through photography, jewelry, ceramics, drawing, painting, and sculpture, the students are exploring their environments, imaginations, and design skills as well as connecting interests and ideas from other classes. From the beginning freshman classes to the advanced senior studios, the art department is proud to showcase the work of our Baldwin artists. The exhibition runs through May 10.

Janice Wilke, Art Department Head 





Best of the Best: Children's Literature

Upper Librarian Kelly Grimmett and myself are members of a panel of librarians who review and present a workshop at the Pennsylvania School Librarians’ Association Annual Conference. The 2011 conference took place in Hershey, and Baldwin’s leaders presented Best of the Best in Children’s Literature on April 12.  The presentation included a review of all the K-Grade VIII books of 2011 that received at least two significant awards or honors, such as the Newbery, Caldecott, the Coretta Scott King Awards, and the “best” lists of SLJ, Booklist, etc.

– Linda Mullen, Lower School technology teacher