Digital Literacy: Discovering the Truth About Online Sources

Determining whether a source is authoritative or not is essential for anyone who wants to learn fact from fiction. It’s especially important for anyone who uses the internet as one of their main sources of information.

Our students are learning this skill early. Lower School Library Media Specialist Emily Woodward created a Digital Literacy Unit, designed to teach her Grade 5 students how to look at data they find on websites and discern whether or not it’s trustworthy.

“I wanted to show the students that just because something looks nice online, doesn’t mean it’s telling them the truth. It’s so important when they’re out there using Google to get answers that they understand information literacy and can be discerning searchers,” said Woodward.

The Digital Literacy Unit lasts about 6 weeks. Students collect data about how they answer questions and find out information. They review a ‘website report card,’ which helps them identify key points (if it has an author, date published, a lot of advertising, etc.) to watch for when determining validity. They also look at a fake website and learn about web-addresses and urls and what domain names mean (.com, .org, .gov).

For their final project, students used their newfound skills to actually put a website on trial.

Students chose partners and were given a website and a side, with two students acting as prosecution and two as defense. They were pretending to be paid lawyers, so even if they didn’t agree with the side they were given, the students needed to find aspects of the website that fit their argument and build upon that. They were given one of the website report cards and two weeks for prep time.

Before trial the students went over the rules of the courtroom: each side had three minutes to build a case. First the prosecution presented before a judge, a student chosen randomly by Woodward, about why their assigned website was untrustworthy. The defense then presented their argument about why it is authoritative. The prosecution had a chance for rebuttal. The judge then made her official ruling.

The goal is to prepare students for projects and research papers they’ll tackle in Middle School, Upper School, college and beyond. Current Grade 6 student Daria discussed her experience with last year’s project: “We learned a lot last year but I think that a good activity was when we were able to be supporting a website and criticizing one. We got to act like lawyers and write speeches. The skill of recognizing a good or bad website is a great one not only to use in school but outside of school too!” said Daria.

LS and MS Students Go Into Orbit with First Lego League

At The Baldwin School, we encourage our girls to reach for their dreams, taking whatever path they are most passionate about. We have scientists, scholars and poets. We have athletes and artists. And we have computer programmers, designers and robotic engineers.

Our DREAM LabⓇ program has been instrumental in creating opportunities to explore paths in the STEM fields. One particular initiative has been to introduce our girls to the First Lego League. This competition involves over 320,000 students from 95 countries across the globe.

This year involved several historic “firsts.”  There was enough interest to form four teams – three teams of students from grades 4-5 and for the first time, a team representing grades 6-8. In total we had 30 girls involved – more than double from past years.

Two teams also won awards – and one will proceed to the regional championships at the University of Pennsylvania in February. They will be the first team to represent Baldwin at the championship since the inception of our program.

All four teams took part in regional competitions – two teams participated at Springside Chestnut Hill School and two at the Franklin Institute.

The program consists of three components, called “strands.” Within the Robotics strand, students must build a robot and program it to solve specific missions. They also need to present their progress to a panel of judges. The Core Values strand focuses on how students demonstrate their understanding of the FIRST® philosophies of Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® through core values like discovery, innovation, inclusion and teamwork. Along with being observed throughout the competition, they must prepare a poster board and design t-shirts.

Within the Project strand, students must define a problem within the season’s theme, propose a solution, create a prototype, speak with an expert, share their work outside the community and present to a panel of judges. This year’s theme was ‘Into Orbit’ and participants were tasked with finding and solving a physical or social problem faced by humans during long duration space exploration. Students needed to identify a tangible problem they could prove exists.

Our four teams took this challenge and, as quintessential Baldwin girls, came up with very creative ideas. The Solar DREAMers, made up of Tisya Desai ‘27, Cianni Hill ‘27, Melina Intzes ‘26, Anais Piquion ’26, Ayesha Sayeed ‘26, Piper Skoglund ‘26, Maya Soldatovich ‘26 and Natalya Spychalski ’27 learned that nearly 80% of astronauts can get Space Motion Sickness (SMS). They created a prototype of an auto injectable wristband that injects medicine into the astronaut when the band detects high temperature/fast or slow heart rate.  

The Thinking Girls, made up of Bella Alimansky ‘27, Olivia Choo ‘26, Cydnei Crisden ‘27, Evelyn Jean ‘26, Leah Roman ‘27, Camila Tobon ‘26 and Daphne Yorks ‘26 discovered that bones and muscles weaken in space because there is no gravity and while there are already solutions to mitigate this, like exercise machines, they take up a lot of space. They designed a prototype comprised of six resistance bands to do different stretches, all connected to a belt. Judges noticed their tenacity and “never say die” attitude on event day –  they managed to figure out two additional missions that moved their score into the top 40% of scores for the robot strand, thus securing their spot at the championship.

The Robo Heroes, made up of Thea Dunckel ‘26, Maya Fey ‘27, Laila Gopalani ‘26, Anya Henry ‘26, Nina Heverin-Alvarado ‘26, Harper Lawson ‘27 and Amelia McCullough ‘26 realized people who experience extended space travel don’t see their families for a long period of time and this can cause anxiety or depression. They created a Virtual Reality version of an astronaut’s house. This would be loaded to a Flash Drive and sent with astronauts for use in space. The house would include the ability to interact with family members back on Earth. They won a Project Award in the area of Research for their innovative virtual reality solution.

The Dream Team, made up of Eve Alimansky ‘25, Tori Benjamin ‘25, Israel Carter ‘25, Rachel Gopalani ‘23, Grace Harvey ‘25, Eliana Jean ‘24, Nikoletta Kuvaeva ‘25 and Emily Sidlow ‘’25 had another approach to the problem of depression during deep space travel. Working the concept of a Tesla suit, created primarily for gamers, they designed a hug vest that simulates the pressure, smell and height of a loved one’s hug using haptic technology.

Teams must divide and conquer and stay extremely organized. The work, including all research and development, was led by the students. Although DREAM LabⓇ Coordinators Stephanie Greer and Addison Lilholt and Grade 3 Teacher Peter Greenhalgh act as facilitators, they were as hands off as possible, encouraging the girls to solve their own problems. The teams met after school twice a week and practiced in the evenings and weekends, beginning in August. While they each had their own projects, they had to learn to share materials, space and coaches and accommodate each other throughout the journey.

The program takes hard work, drive and perseverance. It also involves a lot of fun – our students discover the power of their own imaginations as they learn to apply STEM concepts to solve a real world problem. Along their journey, they’re developing critical-thinking and team-building skills, presentation skills and good sportsmanship.

“What is important about this program is that it’s unlike any other academic experience for students this age. They’re given an enormous set of tasks, a timeline, a space to learn and adults to facilitate. But it’s up to them to make this work. They’re learning project management and leadership skills. They’re discovering real world consequences. You take your work into a public arena where it’s viewed by the public and you learn how to get feedback,” said Ms. Greer.

This year is truly special for Ms. Greer. “I have been on the Regional Steering Committee for FLL at the University of Pennsylvania for 8 years,” she explained. “I am the regional head Core Values judge and regularly provide training and professional development on different facets of the FLL program for coaches and judges in the region. I have attended every championship in the capacity of judge for the last 9 years. This is the first time I will get to take one of my teams to the championships at Penn – it is also the last year Penn will run the region, and so it is my last year on the committee and the last year Championships will be hosted by Penn. I’m grateful to get to take a team before a new committee takes over.”

Beyond the wonderful academic benefits, this is an extraordinary experience for our girls. The program provides them with a supportive community to learn more about themselves and discover a love for science. “It’s where some kids find their tribe. This is where they find a place with a ton of other kids who are in love with STEM too,” said Ms. Greer.

Click to see our media gallery of our students’ First Lego League journey.

Orienteering: Lessons Learned From Nature

In a world of cell phones, GPS units and technological tools for just about everything, knowing how to read a physical map is becoming a lost skill. Third grade teacher Kathy Gates has incorporated the art of topography into her curriculum, and in doing so discovered the many benefits of bringing nature into the classroom.

In the spring of 2001, Kathy attended a conference held by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and took a workshop dedicated to outdoor education options in math. Along with other methods, they learned about orienteering, a type of sport that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed. Participants are given a topographical map, usually a specially prepared orienteering map, which they use to find control points. The goal is to locate the controls in the fastest amount of time.

Thanks to a generous donation from a Baldwin family, Kathy purchased compasses and controls, which are 3-dimensional flags you place along the course. After contacting the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association, Kathy first introduced her students to this exciting program in the fall of 2001. After several years, she learned to set up the course herself.

As the girls venture into the woods at Ridley Creek State Park, their main focus is that they won’t be able to rely on familiar technology to find their way. But the beauty is that it’s a multi-faceted learning experience. Along with learning to use a compass and read a map, they’re using mental math – using the scale on the map to estimate how far you need to travel. They’re honing their sense of direction. They’re enjoying the outdoor exercise that comes with hiking. They’re also applying what they learn in other classes – science covers landforms and waterforms and the topography of PA, and they bring that knowledge onto the course.

They work in groups of four, shadowed by a teacher, and work to find the control before their other classmates. When they go off course, they aren’t automatically corrected. Instead, they’re asked questions that prompt critical thinking and collaboration to get back in the right direction. At the end of their journey, they’re asked to reflect on what they’ve learned in a journal.

The world is constantly evolving and progressing, and so should the classroom. Lower School science teacher Becky Lewis is interested in the benefits of using a map versus a GPS unit and decided to join the program this year to give students the experience of both. The first half of the course was spent using the compasses, the second half the units. The girls loved using both tools and discovered that map readers still had to use problem-solving strategies to help interpret instrument readings.

“What we found is that if the girls learn how to read a printed map and they become spatially and directionally savvy, then they can make intelligent decisions using the compass or the GPS, because they’re just tools. You still have to make intelligent decisions,” said Kathy.

Of course, one of the most important parts of the program is that it takes the classroom outside, giving the girls the chance to enjoy our local natural landscape. “Nature is one of our best teachers. It reminds you to pause and take a breath and enjoy our world, which gives us another wonderful way to introduce mindfulness into our girls lives,” said Kathy.

Advocating for the Education and Development of Girls

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl, a global celebration of youth advocates who advance the rights of and opportunities for girls everywhere.

Baldwin’s mission is to develop our girls into confident young women who have the vision, global understanding and the competency to make significant and enduring contributions to the world. We celebrate the power of being a girl every day and consider it our responsibility to advocate for girls in our community, regionally and globally.

In Lower School, students enthusiastically participate in the Educate a Girl campaign, an annual fundraiser that benefits girls’ education around the world. Unlike other fundraisers, faculty encourage students to find creative ways to raise money, instead of simply asking their parents for help, leading to a variety of unique entrepreneurial endeavors, including bake sales, selling handmade artistic creations and giving out hugs at Baldwin events. This program also opens the door to critical conversations at home, giving our girls the opportunity to talk to their parents about those who don’t have access to quality education.

Emelie Wilkes, one of our second grade teachers, has been leading this project for over 10 years. “In its first year my class raised more than $1,000 on its own for an orphanage in Kenya,” she says. “For the past two years, the Lower School has raised over $10,000! To me, there is nothing more valuable than teaching our amazing, bright and gifted girls the importance of giving back. So many girls around this world are held back by circumstances out of their control. If we can help one child, that’s a start.”

All of the funds raised this year will be donated to Women’s Campaign International to directly benefit girls’ education. Specializing in transitional states and post-conflict regions around the world, Women’s Campaign International equips women and girls with the skills and support needed to transform their lives and communities.

Compassion, respect and responsibility are three of Baldwin’s core values, and all are demonstrated by these efforts, as well as in our curriculum. Our priority is not only to advocate for girls around the world but to continue to find new ways to advocate for our own students. In the Middle School, there’s a targeted focus on social and emotional development through lessons on identity, building empathy, healthy relationships, mindfulness and digital citizenship.  

“While one of our goals is for our students to do well academically, it’s just as important to make sure they are prepared to navigate the ever-shifting social landscape in life by giving them the tools, the language and a safe space to learn and grow,” says Middle School Librarian Lauren Friedman-Way.

Middle School faculty focus on the five core competencies of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning): self-management (managing emotions); self-awareness (recognizing emotions, values, strengths and challenges); social awareness (developing empathy and understanding); relationship skills (developing healthy, positive relationships and team-building); and responsible decision-making. The goal is to give Baldwin students the support and skills they need to become women who make a positive impact in all parts of their lives – from the classroom and the playing fields to their homes and local communities.

The Baldwin School Library Services Team: Experts in the Education of Girls

The library services team of The Baldwin School regularly goes above and beyond when it comes to facilitating the education and development of the entire community.  Their mission is to “foster a lifelong habit and love of reading and learning,” and they accomplish this through an intentional drive to encourage the thoughtful and responsible exchange of ideas.  This is particularly important for the School’s position as a leader in the education of girls. As literary experts and constant advocates for our students, they are not only always finding new ways to work with each classroom and creating avenues to encourage our students to use their resources, but they make it a priority to research new trends in the development of girls and women.  At the library, students discover new talents, push their limits and find their voice in a supportive setting.

As experts, and understanding how essential the exchange of ideas is among educators, the team regularly attends and presents at conferences.  Lisa Lopez-Carickhoff, Director of Libraries and Information Services, Lauren Friedman-Way, Middle School Librarian, and Emily Woodward, Lower School Library Media Specialist, enjoyed three action-packed days over the summer at the National Coalition of Girls Schools – Global Forum on Girls Education, in Washington, DC. In addition to the many session presentations, they found the list of keynote speakers to be very impressive — Billie Jean King, Rachel Simmons (author of Odd Girl Out, Enough as She Is), Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) and many others.

While at the conference, the team co-presented the session Identity Making: A Novel Approach, which examined the ways our libraries encourage identity exploration by enabling student agency in literacy practices.  They discussed how exploring and constructing identity is an integral part of school life, and supporting agency throughout this identity-building process is a unique value that distinguishes independent schools for girls. Reading is an essential component, providing a space for girls to try on, try out and build identity.  Learn more about their presentation here.

“NCGS was truly a remarkable experience and such a valuable opportunity for the Baldwin Libraries team. The most important piece, for us, was looking at our work with girls and reading within the context of the national and global girls education endeavor. I think we felt simultaneously validated about the work of the Baldwin Libraries and challenged by the depth and breadth of the work going on in our sister schools. Not to mention – it was supremely cool to present at the same conference as Billie Jean King. Wow,” said Lisa Lopez-Carickhoff.

As a whole, the Baldwin libraries are a hub for all members of the Baldwin community.  Made up of three unique libraries to fully embrace the needs of every student from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12, as well as all faculty and staff, the libraries include more than 25,800 titles and over 40 databases and digital learning tools. In the 2017-2018 school year alone, the library team facilitated over 600 classes in their spaces and archives.  We encourage you to stop by the next time you’re on campus!

5 Life Lessons

Taken from a speech given by Lower School Director Elizabeth Becker at our 2018 Lower School Moving Up Ceremony.

First, pursue your passion. Don’t be a spectator in the game of life. Get off the couch and make your mark. Don’t lose sleep thinking about what might happen, don’t worry about what people might say, and please don’t let anything or anyone extinguish your flame. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. You won’t be successful if you don’t try. So pursue your passion, follow your dreams, and make it happen.

Second, make a difference. Be a positive force in people’s lives. Making a difference doesn’t always require a monetary gift, more importantly it is the gift of a caring heart. Make people feel special; bring out the best in others; and be genuinely happy for their achievements. The truth is, success isn’t measured by what you accumulate in life, but by what you give to others.

Third, appreciate what you have. It won’t always be easy but be thankful for what you have in your life. Sometimes it is easier for us to want to focus on what we do not have; but when we do this we sometimes lose focus of what we do have. So appreciate what you have before it becomes what you had. The truth is, happy people don’t necessarily have more; they’re just satisfied with what they do have.

Fourth, own your life. You’ll be faced with decisions every day. You have the freedom to choose the direction that you want to take, to determine the choices that you’ll make, and to decide how hard you’re willing to work to achieve your goals. If you want your life to be different, don’t look to others — change it yourself. The truth is, your life is determined by the choices that YOU make every day not by the decisions of others.

Fifth, make yourself proud. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you meet the expectations of others; what counts is that you meet your own expectations. So set the bar high, live your life with integrity, and make yourself proud––you have to face yourself in the mirror every day. The truth is, if you don’t respect yourself, why should others?

One day when you’re old (yes…over 25), you may stop and ask yourself the question: “How did I do?” Here are clues to the answer: Have you learned that happiness is as important as success? Do you care not only about where life has taken you, but also how have you been involved in where it has taken others?

So find your passion, be courageous and make yourself proud!

Upper School Environmental Science Capstone Project: Our Students Become Teachers

Written by Maggie Epstein, Science Teacher

In honor of Earth Day, and as a capstone project for their senior elective, the Environmental Science class took on the challenge of becoming experts on an environmental issue and then educating and acting on that issue as well. Throughout the year, the class has focused on the depletion and sustainability of common resources. And while we span the breadth of the subject, there is rarely time to go as deep into specific issues as we may like. So, during the month of April each student chose a topic that they were personally motivated to address. In class and outside of school, they researched and found small solutions to the problem. Most excitedly, this was by far everyone’s favorite part of the project, they were tasked with teaching about their topic to a lower school class.

This was the first year I attempted this project (at this scale at least) and it was daunting. The seniors would have to budget their time and be on their own as “teachers” when it was their turn. However, as soon as the first lesson happened in mid-April, I knew it was going to be an amazing experience. Mary Rose Shields ‘18 and Haley Smith ’18 hadn’t just prepared lectures about deforestation and pollinators, they arrived in gardening clothes with soil and seeds, beaming with enthusiasm. Their lesson highlighted the importance of bees and trees within the ecosystem. They got their hands dirty with the Kindergartners, planting, teaching and being just amazing role models for the younger girls.

Similarly, Emma Bradley ‘18 and Gabbi Pettineo ’18 got the other Kindergarten class to rally behind polar bears. A visit from Winnie got the girls excited, but what really thrilled them was getting to experience how blubber insulates the bears and is vital for their survival. Learning about the importance of blubber was key to understanding how the bears are threatened when they have to travel further and further for food. Less food and more walking means less blubber and a very cold bear. The girls coated their hands in simulated “blubber” to test this theory. Their “blubber” covered hands stayed perfectly warm even in a bowl of ice water – some very fun hands-on science for sure!

Earth Day is a global day of awareness and Rhea Li ’18 was able to share her knowledge of Mandarin with the 1st grade – teaching them Earth themed vocabulary! The girls in her class were all joyful and eager participants leaning to say Earth, ocean, the highest mountain and more. Even the Pre-K was on board for an Earth day lesson. Kate Park ’18 and Dagny DeFratis-Benway ’18 taught them about the size and importance of the oceans. The girls had fun sorting aquatic animals and making their own watery “Earth” to take home. I know their lesson was a success as my own Pre-K daughter came home and told me how “litter is dangerous for all the ocean animals.”

Not all the lessons were quite as sunny though. Melia Hagino ’18 tackled water inequity with the 5th grade; Emily Thompson ’18 got 1st graders to consider their carbon footprints; Natalia Schafer ’18 and Julia Love ’18 warned about the dangers facing the coral reefs. Though these topics were complex, students were still engaged and excited for the experience. The seniors commented on the impressive level of intellectual curiosity from Lower School students and also on the incredible empathy they encountered on their visits.  Maya Hairston ’18 and Miyanni Stewart ’18 were concerned at first that Ms. Fitzpatrick’s 4th grade would be too young to understand the concept of environmental racism. They were confident though that the topic was one they wanted to address and they did so with incredible maturity and thoughtfulness. They had the girls participate in a roll play game that modeled the disparity among the environments of  some communities inhabited by people of color. They spoke to them about the causes and consequences of this injustice and allowed them to share their own thoughts as well. The experience was powerful for all involved. Maya reflected, “I was worried at first that this topic would be too much for fourth graders, but they handled it so well. I feel so honored to have presented in front of a class of such smart young thinking girls. I look forward to seeing them in the halls from now on!”

Beyond just learning and teaching, our class took action. In one month, the Environmental Science class, collectively,  raised money for the Natural Resource Defense council and the United Way, created an Instagram to promote reducing carbon emissions (you can follow it @iamparisca), signed numerous petitions, planted two trees, created a pollinator garden, reduced the flow on their toilets and more!

Watching students combine what they’ve learned with their myriad talents and skills was inspiring. I hope to not just continue this project but expand it to include even more of the Lower School and possibly the larger community in the future. As Haley noted in her reflection, “At the end when we were outside planting, a bee flew by and none of the girls flinched. They watched as it flew around and one girl said, ‘Don’t worry bee! My flower for you will be ready soon!’ This was an adorable moment that made me realize I had done my job.” I have to agree with her. As I saw all the photos of the girls from Pre-K on up to my class of 2018 smiling, learning and working together, I absolutely felt the same joy.

See more of our favorite photos on The Baldwin School’s Smugmug.

Girls on the Run is So Much Fun!

Written by Girls on the Run coaches Janice Tan, Erin Hesketh and Liz Tily.

You may have heard this cheer around the Lower School or maybe you have seen some girls and their coaches running up and down the hall or on the fields. Curious? What you have witnessed is the first Girls on the Run (or GOTR for short) team at Baldwin. Before the season even started, months of training and meetings went on behind the scenes – Coaches Erin Hesketh, Liz Tily, Janice Tan and Megan Rohricht were well prepared and excited for the first season to begin!

For those who are unfamiliar with the GOTR curriculum, it consists of 20 activity-based youth development lessons that are completed in 10 weeks. The mission? A world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams. Girls on the Run is more than just a fitness club. Each week begins with an educational lesson designed to offer confidence, build relationships and teach life skills to young girls. At the end of the program, the girls participate in a 5k to celebrate their hard work. Every lesson builds upon a topic from the week before. The goal is to help girls be happy, healthy and confident.

A typical afternoon with GOTR starts with our girls “getting on board.” During this time, the girls transition from school to their run session. We introduce the theme of the day during a short activity. These themes include: balance, self-talk, emotions, empathy, friendship, teamwork and communication. Next, we incorporate some stretching and strengthening activities before we head off to the warm-up. The warm-up consists of movements like a game of freeze tag or a group relay. Soon after, the workout of the day begins. During this time, the girls make a lap goal, don the lap counter bracelet Coach Erin came up with and we get to work!

In between laps includes some type of journaling or communicating about our theme of the day. After laps we process our lesson and transcribe a picture, word or phrase about our day onto our “identity cards.” These cards have become very busy, demonstrating all the hard work and season’s accomplishments. At the end of each lesson, the girls give out a great big cheer and an energy award is given. An energy award is a super fun way to recognize a girl or group of girls who has given their all on that day. The girls have embraced the positivity and enjoyed celebrating their teammates throughout the season.

This past week, we completed our practice 5K and it went beautifully. After navigating some tricky spring weather, the team managed to get their laps in and build the fitness and confidence they needed to get the job done. The end of the season brings our community impact project so look around Baldwin’s campus for some GOTR personal touch!

The season finale ends on May 20th with our GOTR 5K at Montgomery County Community College. All are welcome – boys, girls, friends and family. It will give our girls a chance to share some of the positivity our season generated. If you want to join us for our season closing 5K, grab some sneakers and we’ll see you on May 20th!

As GOTR coaches, we were excited to be a part of a new program. We wanted to meet girls in other grades and get involved in a running program. The Girls on the Run program was much more than that! We were able to develop relationships and help build confidence in the girls to see that they are truly stronger than they believe! We were amazed by the responses and ideas generated by the girls during the group discussions. Many friendships were built through the GOTR program and we had so much fun interacting with the girls. The program even helped the coaches to reflect on and improve different aspects of their lives! We loved being Girls on the Run coaches!

A Cross Curricular, Multi-Grade Interactive Dinosaur Board

Written by Stephanie Greer, Lower School DREAM Lab ® Coordinator and Computer Science Department Chair, in collaboration with Andre Teixeira, Lower School Art Teacher and Department Chair of Visual Arts, Kindergarten Teachers Monica Henkel and Carol Beaverson, and Janice Tan, Lower School Science and DREAM Lab ® Teacher.

How the Interactive Dinosaur Board Came to Be: A (Super Cool) Cross Curricular, multi-grade, Lower School Collaboration

Hold your hand on the tin-foil covered top rail of the Interactive Dinoboard. Now, touch the metal brad next to any one of the dinosaurs that cover the Jurassic-themed landscape, and the voice of a kindergarten student comes over a speaker reciting the name of the dinosaur you’ve selected and providing you with a fact or two about the dinosaur.

The Interactive Dinoboard is the culmination of an on-going collaboration between ECC Sciene Teacher Janice Tan, Department Chair of Visual Arts and Lower School Art Andre Teixeira, Kindergarten Teachers Carol Beaverson and Monica Henkel and myself, Computer Science Department Chair and Lower School DREAM Lab® Coordinator. We started discussions for the board in January and finished just in time to display it at the School Maker Faire in April.

To create the board we implemented a divide and conquer approach:

Mrs. Beaverson and Mrs. Henkel assigned each kindergarten student a dinosaur. Working together with their teachers and their parents, each student became the expert of their dinosaur, reading about it and writing a prepared set of facts to share with the Baldwin community.

Meanwhile, during Art and DREAM Lab classes, the students created the artwork for the board. Mr. Teixeira prepared a unique dinosaur template for each student to cut and decorate. Cutting small details such as talons, wings and back plates can be very challenging for kindergarten-aged students who are still working to strengthen their developing fine motor skills. Mr. Teixeira encouraged the students to take their time to carefully cut the complicated dinosaur templates. Students also referenced pre-selected books and pictures to inform their decorating choices. To add a bit of whimsy to the work, the students finished each dinosaur off with googly eyes.

During lunch one day, Mr. Teixeira sketched an outline for the bulletin board, so that Janice Tan and I could begin developing the background of the board with students during DREAM Lab. The 16-foot landscape was then rolled across the DREAM Lab floor and students worked together to paint, color and collage the board. They even gave it a little extra depth and dimension by adding puffy white clouds made from polyfill.

By the time the artwork for the board was done, the students had finished preparing their dinosaur facts up in the ECC and creating their individual dinosaurs in art class. We reviewed the concept of horizon lines, perspective and habitat, and each student selected a position for their dinosaur on the board.

Over the following two DREAM Lab class periods, Mrs. Tan worked with students rehearsing their facts and preparing them, while I recorded their voices down the hall in a quiet space. Using a USB microphone and the Garageband app, I recorded and saved each student’s voice. The students’ faces lit up as they learned to speak clearly into a microphone and then listened back to their recorded voices. They were each allowed to record multiple takes and they were encouraged to choose their favorite recording for the board.

At last, all the pieces were in place. All that remained was the addition of the technology. Here’s where our project stalled – for a few weeks, the board sat lifeless and incomplete, an unfinished promise, propped against the DREAM Lab wall. I knew I could easily finish the board in just a few hours and have it up and running, but it seemed like that would be such a lost opportunity. I wanted to have students do the work, but it wasn’t a task suited for a whole class. Serendipitously, my after-school Maker Club started up, and five fourth-grade students who had already had an extensive unit on building circuits were enrolled. Perfect! I approached them with the idea of finishing the board for the School Maker Faire and they were excited and on board.

During the next two after-school club meetings, the five fourth-graders built two computers, soldered multiple cables, organized and ran and insulated all the wiring (a significant amount), and programmed the computers they had built to recognize Makey Makey key-on messages to trigger audio files. They finished the board just in time for the School Maker Faire and it was a beautiful thing. When it all worked as it should and managed to survive a day of hands-on exploration from visitors at the School Maker Faire, we knew the project was a success.

Collaborating on this project improved our time efficiency and magnified one another’s teacher gifts. It provided us a context to model Baldwin’s core values and to provide rich learning opportunities for our students. Mrs. Tan and I only see Kindergarten students once a week for 30 minutes. Had we tried to complete this project in isolation we would have had to allocate months of instructional time rather than a few weeks. Mr. Teixeira drew the landscape for the bulletin board free hand in under 10 minutes. Tapping into his talent and expertise saved us hours of time we would have spent trying to figure out how to get the job done. (I will never forget watching him effortlessly draw a 16-foot sketch in the amount of time it took me to eat a sandwich. Mind blown!) Mrs. Beaverson and Mrs. Henkel set the tone for our collaboration, introducing students to the core content and providing the academic foundation for the experience. They invited parents into the project and extended the collaboration beyond school walls. By working inclusively and collaboratively, we provided a model of a community working together for the benefit of others. Older students supported younger students and they felt a sense of pride knowing they had done so. These are just a few of the positive outcomes of the collaboration.

For fellow educators and collaborators:

If you are interested in undertaking a collaborative project with a few other teachers, but you don’t have much experience doing so, here are a few tips to help ensure your success:

  1. At the start of a project, sit together and create clear and measurable goals. Who will do what and by what time? Then, communicate regularly regarding your progress. How is your piece of the puzzle coming along? Do you need support? Do you need more time? Let your collaborators know. Vulnerability is key.
  2. Be flexible. You may need to adjust expectations throughout the process. Sometimes you may think a goal has been clearly defined, but the goal may have been interpreted differently by your collaborators. When that comes up, see if you can go with the flow and be solution oriented. Embrace the work your collaborators have done rather than wish for work they have not done. Be ready for timelines to shift occasionally.
  3. Have a sense of humor or a playful spirit. Just remember not to take everything too seriously.

If you have an idea for a collaboration and you aren’t sure where to start, please consider reaching out to me. I am happy to collaborate with you on projects, or to facilitate your initial planning of a collaboration with other members of our community.

Teaching Our Students to Love Science

Written by Christie Reed, Science Department Chair, Becky Lewis, Lower School Science Teacher and Maggie Epstein, Middle School Science Teacher. 

Winnie, our School mascot, is missing! Where did she go and who took her? As the 5th graders entered their Science class, this was the crime scene they faced. It was up to them to figure out what had happened, and they were going to use their newly gained knowledge of the microscope and their well-trained observational skills to do so. Piecing together bits of information provided, along with various microscope slides containing evidence, the students went about solving the disastrous crime. After all, a pep rally is no pep rally without our mascot! When science class is this engaging, who wouldn’t love it?

As teachers at Baldwin, we have the privilege of being able to craft our classes, tailoring what we are doing according to student interests, current events and new discoveries. Our classrooms are our creative space, a place where we can try new things while introducing the girls to the world of discovery, a place where one teacher noted, “We can make science zany.” In Lower School, for example, a student may learn about the parts of a flower inadvertently while engineering a way to pollinate flowers if there are not enough bees. Or in Middle School, a student learning about density may be asked to take advantage of a snowy day to collect some snow from outside to then determine if there is a difference between the density of snow and the density of water. Or in Upper School, a student may be called upon to determine if gene therapy in a fetus is the best course of action for a genetic condition after having diagnosed the mutation with her knowledge of protein synthesis, research on the condition and a determination of its severity. As teachers at Baldwin, we can differentiate to the needs of our classes.  If students want to take a deep dive into how technology is being created to help patients with Parkinson’s disease by performing a neural micro-stimulation experiment on cockroaches, we are able to indulge those curiosities. We are not limited by the constraints of a national standard and we often exceed those guided standards.

Beginning in Pre-Kindergarten our Lower School science program has a dedicated science teacher and a separate science classroom. Science is not something “extra” or being taught by a teacher who is unfamiliar with and uncomfortable teaching science material. The goals of Lower School science are exposure, immersion and engagement. Science is presented in a meaningful tangible way for our littlest scientists. Our girls become scientists, using real science equipment and engaging in science experiments.  The girls are encouraged to find science “cool,” and even the teacher keeps them guessing each day with a science outfit that often relates to the topic for one of the science classes. On an average day, students might be attempting to prove that Snow White’s mishaps were not because of a poison apple, but instead a gluten allergy,  predicting phenotypes in live zebrafish, engaging in a live surgery with surgeons or writing an infomercial trying to sell metamorphic rock.

Middle School and Upper School classes are all taught by subject specialists who are experts in Physics, Biology, Chemistry or Environmental Science. Skills are emphasized while content is explored with experiences and problem solving. For example, when a particular 8th grade class showed a concern for the number of un-recycled water bottles left on school grounds, it led to an entire shift within the unit toward the chemistry of water quality and plastics. These girls saw the science classroom as a place to find answers, and they saw themselves as the ones to figure out a solution. They designed experiments to test the water for common pollutants and even for taste. They planned control groups and shared their data. The middle school years are often when confidence wanes, replaced by the burden of wanting to fit in while still discovering what that even means. These 8th graders showed real risk-taking and were empowered by the results. The structure of middle school science is predictable – the tools, the labs … but the built-in spontaneity of not having the answers (or even the questions) constantly fed to them encourages girls to see science as the exciting, evolving discipline it is. When a middle schooler sees herself as a scientist, she can feel more confident tackling any problem. This approach continues in Upper School where our ultimate goal is to educate science literate critical thinkers who are not afraid to solve any problem in whatever their future fields of endeavor. Learning opportunities are everywhere and are seized upon to keep science exciting, engaging and relevant. For example, the Physics teacher recently asked his students how their driving was on the snowy, icy roads after a few snow days in order to introduce his discussion about static and kinetic friction, and the Biology classes used the recent cloning of a monkey to begin their discussion on DNA.

From the moment our students begin their science journey in our pre-Kindergarten, to the capstone advanced elective courses they take in senior year, we work to excite, empower and instill a love of learning and questioning in our girls. They believe there is nothing they cannot do, and if they ever meet a challenge that seems too big or too overwhelming to solve, they gather their best problem-solving tools and go about figuring it out anyway. Risk-taking is the norm, and throughout their work in science at Baldwin, the students quickly see that the wrong answer is often more celebrated than the right answer! After all, the best learning occurs after mistakes are made. How great to turn a misunderstood concept or an incorrectly solved problem into an opportunity to discuss why that is not necessarily the answer. Students are encouraged to speak out and to think through a solution verbally as they work through their own understanding. Guided questions from the teacher, contributions from classmates and thinking out loud allow the girls to work through their understanding in a way that gives them the confidence to be a leader in their own learning. The message to our girls is loud and clear: trust yourself. The worst thing that can happen is that you are wrong and learn from your mistakes! This is one of the most powerful benefits of an all-girls’ education—the girls are not afraid to speak up loudly and confidently, whether they know the answers or not! There is no one to impress, and learning is the most important thing in the classroom.