Monday, July 6, 2015

ArcGIS Mapping Experience

Kerry Whittaker- CSG Marine Science

At CSG, education is based in place. We take time to observe the interactions between place and self.  More often than not, we find memorable experiences and relationships deeply imbedded in those places we value most. We inquire about place and community. With the coast of Maine as classroom, we explore the dependence of ecological and human communities on natural resources; geography defines these resources.  In understanding ecologies of place, we are called to action.  But action needs a place as well.  Functional definitions of justice, sustainability, and voice vary geographically. Gary Snyder said, “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” Moving from observation, to inquiry, to action all starts with place. This semester, we took a shot at synthesizing our individual and communal experiences of place through mapping.
ArcGIS or Geographic Information Systems is a software mapping program widely used by land use managers, conservationists, and scientists to overlay and analyze spatially relevant data. But experience is data too. Increasingly our personal experiences are captured in multi-media forms: photo, video, writing, and art. ArcGIS offers the tools to combine and overlay multi-media while maintaining its geographical relevance.
During Semester 11, we used ArcGIS mapping (link HERE), not for quantitative analysis, but to tell the story of experience. At CSG, students experience place through the lens of science by immersing themselves in coastal Maine ecosystems. They explore place through the lens of leadership by cultivating authentic voices in the field and on the trail. Students experience place through the lens of residential life, fostering community in the little yellow farmhouse and out in the world. Yet, true learning happens when we can connect those experiences through reflection. In the words of John Dewey “We do not learn through experience….we learn through reflection on experience.” This semester, we explored ArcGIS mapping as a tool for synthesizing experience and facilitating reflection. Our intention was to use ArcGIS technology through Story Mapping: engaging in communal reflection while giving a voice to individual perspectives.
At CSG, we try to approach technology with intention; not always easy in a world bombarded with data, driven by media, increasingly reliant upon digital devices, and ever forgetful of the value of face-to-face interaction.  But technology, if used effectively, can be a tool for making connections and joining voices rather than distracting us from authentic experiences.  We created an ArcGIS Story Map journal to document our learning throughout the semester; our goal was to create a bridge, using digital reflection to widen perspective on an analog experience. By the end of the semester, students were using ArcGIS themselves; engaging in technology to share media, overlay voices, and connect seemed second nature. Semester 11 students mapped a week-long learning expedition along the coast of Maine. Within a four-hour block, students used ArcGIS to process their experience creating a reflective and useful if unpolished final product. ArcGIS became a positive tool for learning, allowing them to move beyond immersion in the field to make broader connections between personal experience and the world. Their expedition of learning became a story, where places, people, and ideas along the journey could emerge in a narration of challenge and triumph.  

Friday, May 29, 2015

Digital Technology in Experiential Learning

Laura Karson, RA/TA CSG Semester 11
It is difficult for me to classify the type of education that goes on here at CSG. On the one hand, we use the Maine coast as our classroom, instructing the students to immerse themselves in and learn from the natural environment. On the other hand, every student has a snazzy MacBook, and they synthesize their work into iBook portfolios. I’m not sure what to make of this contrast. Is it possible to combine outdoor education with progressive technology? Are the two at odds with one another, or can they actually enhance one another?
I was fortunate enough to attend a conference a few weeks ago that addressed these very questions. It was a conference organized by the Association for Experiential Education entitled “Experiential Education in the Digital Age.” At first I was skeptical about the whole premise. In my mind, technology is a way to disconnect from the natural world. When I don’t feel like engaging with the people and things around me, I pull out my iPhone and focus on the screen instead. And now people are claiming that I can use my phone as a tool to connect to my surroundings? How can this be?
One workshop provided a pretty convincing answer to this question. A man named Paul Turano presented a smartphone app called Wander Wonder Wilderness. The goal is that residents of Boston will use this app to find green spaces throughout the city, and will reflect on their time outdoors by uploading photos and videos. The app will also serve as a social networking site that rewards users who visit the most outdoor sites. I love this idea because it raises awareness and appreciation of outdoor environments amongst average city-dwellers. But how can we connect this concept back to education? Back to CSG?

I believe the answer lies in the reflective component of this app. As John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” At CSG, we can use technology as a way to reflect on, and thus learn from, our outdoor experiences. Before introducing this concept to the students, CSG Marine Science teacher Kerry Whittaker and I played around with it by synthesizing some of the students’ work into an ArcGIS Story Map Journal. ArcGIS is a “geographic information system” used for organizing geographic data and creating maps. The Story Map Journal is an application of ArcGIS in which you can combine maps with narrative text and other embedded content. Tyler DeAngelis, a friend and GIS expert that just graduated from Bowdoin, helped us with the technical aspects of using this program. You can see our finished product here.

Connecting the students’ poetry, scientific research, and photographs with dots on a map really helped me understand why CSG is considered “place-based” education. I found GIS to be a really powerful connection-making tool, both physically and theoretically. The girls got a chance to try out this online program by making a Map Journal of their Coastal Expedition. They spent a class period recounting all of the places they went and compiling content (pictures, videos, and writing) to go along with each place. By reflecting on the trip in this way, the students were able to connect their experiences to the Hero’s Journey and the theme of “crossing the threshold.” You can see their Map Journal here.

Although I see the educational value of limiting technology and solely learning from the outdoor environment, it’s the 21st century, and that strategy seems impossible. Computers, phones, and tablets are not going away. If we were to completely remove students from digital devices, they would most likely fall right back into their old habits when they returned home at the end of the semester. We are better off teaching them tools like ArcGIS so that they can learn to use technology in an intentional and productive way.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Coastal to College

At CSG, we refer to our alums as triumphant girls or wild women, and in truth they are these and much more. Our 140 alums are ambassadors, they’re leaders and scientists and awesome adventurers. You’ll find CSG girls in Harvard Square, at Everest Base Camp and studying in South Africa. You might meet one like Heather at your local farmers market while she hands out homemade fabric tote bags, her personal stand against plastic pollution, and it’s becoming more and more common to hear CSG’ers speak at international science symposiums. These truly are triumphant humans, and as I write this post, they are all under the age of 22.

I can easily rattle off a list of statistics in an attempt to tell the story of this community. I could talk to you about our college placement (over 85% of our alums have gone on to higher education and of those, over a third are focused in a scientific path at a four year college or university) or speak to our geographic diversity (our alums come from over 20 states and 3 countries) and then end with a success story or two (like the one about the alum at the Coast Guard Academy who is studying to be an officer, or another from a Maine out island who received a $250,000 scholarship to study biology at Amherst), but that’s only a glimpse of this inspiring group.

I’d like to tell the story of all 140 alums. Each deserves a chapter, but I know this text would quickly become outdated and the complete form would resemble a telephone book (remember those?) in volume. Telling the story of one to capture the essence of all is equally challenging. There is no typical CSG alum story. So, here’s my approach. I’m going to tell the story of our alum community through a third party lens.

College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor Maine, is my alma mater. It is a school dedicated to building community and driven by a fascination with the space where the natural world and the man-made intersect. College of the Atlantic offers alums of Coastal Studies for Girls an annual gift of up to $10,000 to study Human Ecology on their campus. COA put a monetary value on the education CSG provides and estimated it to be around $40,000 per student. Until this year, however, the generous gift had not been utilized. This fall, four CSG alums will start as freshmen at COA, and all will receive these scholarships. As a COA alumna, I am thrilled to see this relationship deepen and know it will serve both communities well. As a CSG employee, I look forward to fostering this connection.

This student scholarship for Coastal Studies for Girls alums values the long-term power of 16 weeks at the little yellow farmhouse. It also speaks to the impression our alums make out in the world. COA and CSG share a commitment to supporting scientifically curious leaders who bring their voices to each of their communities.

Thirty alums were considering college this spring and as of May 1st most of them will have made final commitments to the school of their choosing. For the past two weeks I’ve received a steady stream of updates.  Two girls from different semesters are heading to college in Hawaii (possibly living as roommates). One will be at Johns Hopkins and another will be starting at Bryn Mawr.

I want to take a moment and express gratitude to all our alums.  Thank you to all the wild women, the muddy and fierce and bold humans, who’ve lived at the little yellow farmhouse and used it as a springboard to further success.  I am proud of you, CSG is inspired by you and we’re lucky to have you in our community.

I’ve also heard about GAP years, travel itineraries and summer goals. I am proud of all our triumphant alums, and their adventures are daily inspiration for Coastal Studies for Girls. I know no matter where their paths take them, CSG alums will continue exploring, turning over the literal and metaphorical rocks and pushing boundaries.

Click here for a full listing of CSG alum’s college acceptances and matriculations.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

“What you see is what you get.”

Drawing by Asha Bellamy CSG10
While Coastal Studies for Girls students know this phrase well as guidance for meal portions, it also describes our authentic food philosophy. Gail Worthen, CSG’s founding chef and kitchen goddess, has always brought a Vermonter’s directness to food choices and sources. She says her grandmother who was born in 1885 used to call her and her siblings ‘cows’ saying, “Milk is for cows, not people.” Now, Gail takes a similar position at CSG challenging the conventional wisdom of the subsidized food system through every meal.

Last weekend, she stopped at Dennis and Sarah Wilk’s King and I angus farm in Industry, ME to pick up some beef. Their meticulously kept 175 acres of high, open land support a herd of contented free range cattle. “They’ll walk right up and lick your hand,” Gail observes, noting that other cows nervously jump back from visitors. 
Sarah bakes English muffins and breads as well as shepherd pies, and they sell their goods at farmers markets around the state including Brunswick where Gail met them several years ago. She says, “I feel lucky to have found them.”

CSG supports Maine’s remarkable local food system in other ways, too. She serves scallops caught by her nephew, lobsters trawled by her daughter, chickens from “John the chicken man” at Maine-ly Poultry in Warren, ME, breads from local bakeries and as much produce as possible from Wealdon’s Freeport farm and market. Gail supports the local economy choosing local and organic food whenever possible. She shops by the calendar first looking locally, then regionally, and finally nationally and in Canada.

Yet every girl who has been to CSG knows it’s not just about the food. Gail’s food ethic minimizes sugars and eliminates caffeine. She sometimes inspects suspicious packages for well meaning gifts of candy and chocolate and considers the students’ overall sugar intake. She notes that it usually takes girls a couple of weeks to adjust to the healthier diet, but they always feel better afterwards. Even Gail’s famous granola, renamed Gailnola during Semester 10, uses less maple syrup than the recipe. Recent articles like these in Salon and NPR about the sugar industry’s influence on US food policy affirm CSG’s approach.

CSG’s food and nutrition approach is rooted in Gail’s passion for healthy, local food and shared through daily conversations with girls visiting her in the kitchen. And given Maine’s growing local food movement, she will continue to have even better  local choices.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Semester 11 Story

By Head Resident Mary Krome-  
       I wish I could show you a picture of the table I’m working at. I have term calendars, orientation schedules, personal letters, and two separate notebooks right in front of me. To my left, stretched out on the second half of the table, are all of our medical supplies. Sam splints, burn gel, vitamin C, cough drops, and so on. Some things I’ll hopefully never have to use, and some I know we’ll need more of before the semester is over.
            Louisa, our newest teacher, arrived yesterday and is working on the Spanish curriculum from the front office. Other than that, it’s quiet. I can hear air running through the vents, a rarity in the farmhouse. Outside, it’s near white out conditions. I can still see the trees across the road, but the garage next door is out of sight.

            Before moving to Maine, the last time I was in a blizzard was on a glacier. In Patagonia. For those of you who don’t know me (most readers, I’m sure), I’m a Florida gal most recently from Southern California. This whole blizzard, back up generator, wearing gloves and scarfs thing is new to me. It’ll always feel strange, never mind that I’ve lived in Massachusetts for four years. But life has a strange way of working out, and before I knew it, not only had I learned how to snow camp in Patagonia, and loved it, I was on my way to Maine.
            Because of my winter camping experience, I can confidently say that I both love and hate the cold. It is beautiful here, the perfect kind of weather to think about all the different happy accidents that led me to the little yellow farmhouse. We all have a journey story, many of us probably have several. For some of our students, coming to CSG will be their first journey, or perhaps their longest. What does it mean to travel through the world, moving through new physical and emotional terrain? How is it that we walk through the world? Do we greet adventures head on, on a glacier? Do we hunker down and bide our time, like I’m doing today?
            These are the kinds of questions that make me passionate about teaching. Sure, I loved history and English, learning other people’s stories and then relating them to my own. Story telling is a huge part of journeying, and it’s become a central part of our teaching at CSG. Just ask Kate, whose Leadership course teaches students about rewriting their narratives and increasing their personal agency. The immigrant narrative is an important theme in Julia’s French class. Students also work together to make their own movies, a powerful act of storytelling in itself. In Math class, Jim takes students to local historical sites, telling them the story of the land and asking them to back up his narrative with the numbers.

            This is just a sampling of how story-telling plays into our lives at CSG, never mind the traditions we’ve established over the past five years or the stories that we’ll create together this coming term. And that’s where my work comes in. As Head Resident, I’ll venture to say that I’m Head Storyteller, asking students for ideas and a jumping off point, and then making a narrative to follow for the rest of the term. I work with the Resident Assistants and students to build a curriculum based off of all our interests. When that’s done, the RAs and I follow up with each of the students throughout the semester to ensure that their story, their time at CSG, is the best it can possibly be. More importantly, we ask the students to take the community and their learning into their own hands. By the end of the semester, the students are writing and telling the story each day.  It’s our not-so-subtle hope that CSG students will continue to be story tellers, scientists, writers, and discoverers. People who know the power of voice and narrative, and people who speak their truth.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Soft Opening-

The first afternoon of the fall term at Coastal Studies for Girls, 15 girls walk down to the shore of Casco Bay a couple hours before high tide. On arrival an adolescent osprey stands strangely on the shore. Slightly disheveled, girls wonder if it’s hurt and unable to return to the nest where its sister cries as if  scolding her sibling. Osprey parents abandon the young (the park ranger later tells us) leaving them to learn to hunt and to migrate to South America by experience. The 15 girls who arrived a day earlier at CSG draw curiously close but keep a wary distance from this wild sister.

Soon the osprey flies back to the nest, and students begin casually poking around the shore doing what we all do on a bright August day in Maine, picking up shells and looking under rocks. As they do so, CSG marine scientist, Dr. Elizabeth Halliday starts naming them, identifying quahogs and periwinkles and defining gastropods and bivalves. Soon girls on the perimeter gather closer.

Discoveries continue and turn to questions, “I found a crab!” “Hey, I think there’s a clam under here.” Then, “I used to pop those seaweed pods. What are they?”  “Are these edible?” Soon, everyone gathers observing and listening as Dr. Halliday leads the conversation toward intertidal relationships and adaptations. The shell identified as a smooth periwinkle is colored the exact shade of the nearby knotted wrack on which it lives and feeds.  The perfect circle in a mussel shell is sign of the dog whelk that bores holes in the shells of its prey with a specialized tooth-like radula and shell-dissolving acid.

What appears a first day orientation walk becomes an experiential, place-based marine science lesson.  Later, students build on this experience learning scientific nomenclature, adopting a sister species, and memorizing taxonomic names. What starts with an experience of place, familiar to some girls and new to others, leads to inquiry and then to knowledge.  While Maria Montessori long ago advocated the power of inquiry, people like Grant Wiggins remind us, “understanding is dependent upon drawing inferences by oneself – as well as testing and justifying those inferences - if only to question or verify claims made by the teacher, other students, or authors. Otherwise, it is rote learning with no thinking behind it.” At CSG students start with inquiry, move to research questions and data collection, and finally present marine science research work in public presentations. A soft opening leads to hard science.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Intentionally Interdisciplinary

Last spring, Kate Laemmle (CSG9) laid 17 pages of writing along the curved wall of the classroom yurt. She was wresting with two famous ideas- Mark Twain’s mocking advice, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” and E. M. Forster’s more direct, “Always connect.” Her teachers, Dr. Elizabeth Halliday and Anne Bardaglio as well as her classmates were trying to help her decide what to cut out and how to connect what remained. Looking back Kate says that the essay ‘perfectly morphed’ her two teachers. It also connected her poetic appreciation of CSG’s solo field and her marine science research on micro plastics so well it won a special recognition prize.

Last week, From the Bowseat announced that Kate and three other CSG students, Katherine RIgney, Emma McGurren, and Spencer Wollan won awards for writing and video totaling $2500 with an additional $1500 for CSG. Since the competition began in 2011, Coastal Studies for Girls students have won 10 awards and last year Dr. Halliday won the “On Board Teacher” award.   Noting their success in the competition, Dr. Halliday, known as Liz in the farmhouse, said, “This didn’t just happen. We designed for it.” The following year, based the winning 2013 essay by Susan Bell (CSG8), From the Bowseat adopted microplastics topic as the contest theme and this year they made CSG a partner organization.

Like Kate’s essay, CSG ‘s Coastal Adventure, an interdisciplinary, place-based curriculum constantly wrestles with the same challenges- what to leave out and how to connect. It weaves four disciplines, English, history, leadership and marine science, around three ideas: observation, inquiry & action. This simple structure supports complex reading, research, and learning. On expedition last month, a student noted proof of its success exclaiming, “Wait! Hold on a second! How much time did you guys spend planning this?! Everything we do is so interconnected. The things we do in science, and history tie in to English, res life, and leadership. CSG redefines what it means to be intentional.”

Interdisciplinary work often favors one discipline over another. English literature follows historical timelines; math concepts are determined by science lessons. Initial interdisciplinary enthusiasm often gives way to tension. Conversely, Liz, Anne, and former leadership teacher Vanessa Jones saw their ideas limited by curricular boundaries and created Coastal Adventure. Now, the class moves from poetic appreciation of place, to a big history study of Freeport and the Maine Coast, to scientific research into the marine environment, and ends with Leadership driven affirmations of purpose and action.

Kate Laemmle’s essay merged her coffeehouse creative writing and her research because she wanted to use the beauty of the ocean to drive action to save it. For her, a daily solo in a field overlooking Casco Bay connected local appreciation to global commitment. As she said in her final reflection, “I know CSG has changed me, because I feel the need to go out and change the world.” Similarly, first place winner Katherine Rigney noted she has always had a passion for science, but CSG showed her the power of connecting science to the broader world. Looking forward, she wants to find a way to connect physical science with the law.

This week when Kate came in and shared her process with CSG semester 10 students who are starting their own marine research projects, she connected semesters and inspired even more action.