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.

Exploring Our Universe with ‘InSight’

Written by Jeff Goldader, Upper School science teacher with a PhD in astronomy.

 

Today, NASA attempted another landing on Mars, and some of our Baldwin science students took the time to learn about the mission. A little lander called “InSight,” about the size of a dining room table, successfully touched down on a plain on Mars. Spaceflight isn’t easy. In seven minutes, the lander went from being an interplanetary spacecraft to being at rest on the surface of Mars.

Insight is a geology station.  Its main instrument is a seismometer, to look for “Marsquakes,” which will help us learn if Mars is geologically active at the present time. Mars boasts the largest volcanoes in the solar system, but they look to have been inactive for millions of years. A secondary goal is to drill a hole several meters deep and use what amounts to a thermometer to measure how much heat is released by the center of Mars. This is related to Mars being geologically active, because on Earth, it is heat released by the core of our planet that is the root cause of earthquakes and volcanoes.

Spaceflight is one of the areas in which science and technology blend together. A lander like Insight required the talents of probably over 1,000 scientists and engineers of every type, from astronomers to geologists, from electrical to mechanical to chemical engineers and programmers, and … it’s a long list. As I told my students this morning, Baldwin students have majored in the kinds of fields that are necessary for missions like Insight. There’s no reason they can’t one day be part of a team exploring the universe.

We study Mars to try to understand the past of our own Earth. In the past, Mars was warmer, and there are many reasons to suspect it had liquid water, maybe oceans of it. But today, Mars is in a perpetual deep freeze, with most of the water locked in polar ice caps and frozen in the soil. In the ice and rocks of Mars are clues to what it was like back when it was warm, and could have been a home for life. The upcoming “Mars 2020” rover will be landing in a place that may have had the right conditions for life in the distant past, and it will cache rock samples for return to Earth on a later mission. By studying Mars, we might find clues as to how life started on Earth long ago.

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.

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.

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.

Middle School Service Trip: Discovering Marine Conservation

During Baldwin’s Spring Break, 12 Middle School students traveled to Key Largo, Florida, for a week of activities involving service, culture and exploration.  The group worked with Marine Design Lab to learn about marine biology and conservation.  Grace Halak ’22, Blake Landow ’22, Thea Rosenzweig ’22, Sarah Ying ’22 and Elva Chen ’22 discussed their experiences:

“When I first heard about the Rustic Pathways service trip to Key Largo, I immediately began imagining what I would tell my parents that night to convince them to sign me up. I had received many positive reviews from my peers who went on the New Orleans trip two years ago, so I was incredibly excited when Baldwin offered another Rustic Pathways experience, especially since it relates to marine biology, which fascinates me. I had always thought it was wonderful that Baldwin offered so many opportunities for service as a student, but environmental service had always been my favorite. This trip promised that and more: a week of snorkeling, experimenting and collecting environmental data in Key Largo with MarineLab. The trip sounded like the perfect blend of education, service and fun, and it did not disappoint me.”

“This trip was one of the best and most exciting weeks of my life. We got to go snorkeling almost every day, which gave us so many wonderful opportunities to explore and learn about marine life. Our first day’s activities included learning about coral reef ecology and then later getting to experience the reefs ourselves. Later that evening, we had a fish identification class where we learned how to discern different types of fish, and engaged in a water quality lab. This prepared us for the next day when we headed out to the reef again. This time it was so much more enjoyable and compelling because we knew exactly what we were looking at. During the few days we had left, we enjoyed a seagrass ecology class, snorkeled in the mangroves, took part in a coastal clean-up, participated in a micro-plastics lab and an invertebrate identification lab, referred to as the ‘rock shake’, in which we observed minuscule marine creatures living on algae growing on rocks from the ocean. On our final day at MarineLab, we went on one last snorkel in the mangroves on the bay, and then we headed back to Miami. It is incredible how much everyone learned on this trip and it felt good to help our environment in the process. There was an exhilarating adventure ahead of us every day. I was extremely satisfied with Rustic Pathways and MarineLab’s program, and I can say the same for the rest of the group. I am grateful for the opportunity, and the only thing I would change would be to make the experience last longer!”

“On this trip, I learned a lot about marine life and our environment. We had lessons on the coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves, fish and how humans affect these things. Now that the trip is over, I am more aware of my actions that affect the environment. At MarineLab, the group participated in a micro-plastics lab, in which we observed the amount of plastic in a sample of water from the boat dock. The results were staggering. I learned about statistics and how the ratio of micro-plastics to plankton was very large, and how plastic in the ocean is detrimental to animals and their habitats. This lab and the whole experience made me think about things I can do to help, even if it is just changing a small part of my life.”

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.

Innovative Professional Development

In order to innovate in the classroom, teachers must continually expose themselves to new ideas and learn new practices. Over 75% of our faculty participate in some form of off-site professional development throughout the year, attending workshops, classes and conferences around the country and indeed, around the world. They bring what they’ve learned back to their departments and classroom, often implementing new lessons and new approaches to keep their teaching on the cutting edge. Some of our faculty have participated in activities that are more extensive and often require an application process just to attend.  Below are a few of these opportunities our faculty took advantage of over the summer.  They include travel to England, Maine and New Hampshire as well as opportunities in our own backyard. All involved hands-on and minds-on activities that challenge teachers to think differently and see new perspectives.

sullivan_and_ameisonHistory Teacher Lisa Ameisen and English Teacher Melissa Sullivan participated in the Oxbridge Teacher Seminar Program at Mansfield College, Oxford, this July. Working with colleagues from North America, Europe and Africa, Lisa studied contemporary challenges in educational leadership, while Melissa explored British literature of the fantastic and its connections to the University of Oxford. Each morning, seminar participants began with classes, which often included field trips to places such as a local British independent school, C.S. Lewis’ home or the Oxford University Press. Afternoons were reserved for lectures by distinguished faculty, visits to the Bodleian Library and cream teas. After dinner and evening events such as a Shakespeare play, participants went back to their dorm rooms and finished their homework for the next morning’s class. The week was an opportunity for renewal, diverse perspectives, deep conversations and (with all of the homework) a reminder of what our students’ lives are like on a day-to-day basis.

Kindergarten Teachers Carol Beaverson and Monica Henkel participated in a program by the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Education department, which offers K – 12 teachers of all subject areas the chance to immerse themselves in the Museum’s collections and explore the special nature of art and its use as a classroom resource. The title of this year’s VAST program was Driving Creativity.

Over the course of a week, they participated in lectures, gallery sessions, hands-on sessions, facilitated discussions and reflections related to teaching for creativity. One of the most interesting lectures was given by Bob and Michele Root-Bernstein, co-authors of Sparks of Genius. The Root-Bernstein’s stressed that children need to be given ample opportunity to explore and play imaginatively throughout childhood. These childhood experiences can lead to more creative problem solving throughout the whole of life. Other lecturers explored the importance of giving students ample opportunity to work collaboratively and to develop/ask open questions. Children who develop good questioning skills become better problem solvers.

IMG_0046Grade 3 Teacher Peter Greenhalgh, Lower School DREAM Lab Coordinator Stephanie Greer and Computer Science Teaching Fellow Katie Burke attended the Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK) week-long professional development opportunity, which was an amazing week of group maker space learning.  Peter spent several days with 5 teachers from across the country building a giant hydraulic hand that would play Maynard Ferguson Jazz using Makey Makey and computer coding. He had the opportunity to observe and collaborate with other teams working on a variety of STEAM projects. Katie worked with fellow educators to create virtual rain animations using the Microsoft Kinect and Processing. The group also spent an afternoon at the MIT Media Lab and heard speeches from Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, and Eric Rosenbaum, co-creator of the Makey Makey and developer for Scratch.

Katie also attended the National Computer Science Teacher’s Association Conference in Baltimore. Highlights of CSTA included the Girls Who Code and Hummingbird workshops and the keynote speaker, Freeman Hrabowski III, President of Maryland University.

IMG-6288English Teacher Kelly Zemaitis spent a week at Columbia University with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). Most of her time was spent with other Middle School English teachers where they learned how to elevate their reading curriculum. Some topics studied included creating a community of readers, using reader’s notebooks effectively, teaching nonfiction, one-on-one conferencing/small group work and refining the mini-lesson, as well as a plethora of other topics.

Haystack 4Art Teacher Kristin Brown had the opportunity to study and create art at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, ME. She made collaborative art for two weeks with the only distraction being the natural surroundings. She was able to hone her skills as a printmaker, carving wood blocks by hand and using a laser cutter to create plates from which to print. The class she took worked as a team to illustrate the alphabet. According to Kristin, it was a great experience to come together with 10 strangers to produce a body of work.

The Great American Eclipse – A Conclusion

Jeff Goldader is in his fourteenth year as an Upper School Science Teacher at Baldwin, teaching Honors Physics in 9th grade, and AT Physics and Astronomy in 11th and 12th grade.

eclipseIn August, “The 701” featured a short piece I wrote about the “Great American Eclipse.”  That event is now history, and I thought readers might enjoy reading about (and especially seeing!) the outcome of the trip my oldest son and I took to the path of totality in South Carolina.

In my “bio” for the previous 701 piece, I wrote, “This will be his third total solar eclipse, which he will be spending desperately dodging the clouds in South Carolina.”  Well, that was the literal truth.  On the afternoon of August 20th, forecasts of clouds at our hotel in North Charleston, and at our three backup sites, led us on a search for a place to observe near Columbia, SC.

On the day of the eclipse, our 90-minute drive first resulted in our being rained on after the start of the eclipse, but before totality.  But, after I’d given up hope, the clouds cleared 10 minutes before totality.

The above image is a compilation of a few of the images we took through my telescope, showing (left to right) the last sparkling bits of the disappearing Sun, known as “Bailey’s Beads,” at the start of totality; a specially processed image during totality showing the solar corona, and the famous “diamond ring” at the end of the total phase.

Ten minutes after totality ended, it poured rain.  But we didn’t care.  My son left for his first day of college two days after we returned home.

The “Great American Eclipse”

At new Moon on August 21,  the path of a total solar eclipse will cross the entire continental US.  The Moon will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun, and the shadow of the Moon will fall upon the Earth.  Observers at the center of the shadow, in a band about 60 miles wide, going from roughly Salem, OR, to Charleston, SC, will see the Sun completely covered by the Moon for up to about two and a half minutes.

For everybody else in the continental US, including people near Philadelphia, the Sun will never be completely covered by the Moon.  Instead, the Moon will appear to take a “bite” out of the Sun.  The closer you are to the line of total eclipse, the bigger the bite will be.  In Philadelphia, about 75% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon.  As seen from here, the eclipse starts at about 1:21 pm, reaches its peak at 2:44 pm, and ends at 4:01 pm.

Even though most of the Sun is covered, there will never be a time in Philadelphia where it is safe to look at the Sun directly.  It only takes seconds of staring at the Sun for permanent eye damage to occur.  There are no commonly available household items through which it is safe to look at the Sun.

Credit: University of Illinois, eclipse.illinois.edu
Credit: University of Illinois, eclipse.illinois.edu

However, nature has provided us with a handy way to see the crescent Sun: look in the shadows of trees!  The normally round images of the Sun cast on the ground by light peeking between the leaves will look crescent-shaped, as shown in picture to the left.

This is a fun, completely safe way to view the eclipse.  Be sure to look only at the ground, not back at the Sun through the trees!  Of course, the news will be wall-to-wall eclipse coverage, so you can get great views from the center of the path on your TV or online.  For more information, please see https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov

Jeff Goldader will be starting his fourteenth year as an Upper School Science Teacher at Baldwin, teaching Honors Physics in 9th grade, and AT Physics and Astronomy in 11th and 12th grade, in September.  He holds a BSc in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Before coming to Baldwin, he had a research fellowship with the Hubble Space Telescope project, and taught astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania for five years.  This will be his third total solar eclipse, which he will be spending desperately dodging the clouds in South Carolina.