Sunday, February 8, 2015
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
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
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.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
CRAVE THE DATA
Since seeking answers to our curious observations is the basis of scientific knowledge, the principle project and the majority of our time this unit was spent on original scientific research projects.
At the end of the day, four driving questions emerged as our four research projects:
1) What is the abundance and diversity of organisms living in the mud flats?
2) Where are mircoplastics concentrated in coastal Freeport, ME?
3) How does road noise affect bird calling behavior?
4) How do different water sources affect bioluminescence in dinoflagellates?
In preparation for our data collection week, we spent lots of in-class time researching relevant scientific literature found from on-line academic databases, writing a first draft of an introduction, preparing data collection materials, and discussing how to best function as a group. To practice and critically think about relational power, we prepared an AMT (Agreement of Management Timeline) with our group members, which detailed the logistics of our projects – from what our driving hypotheses were to what each group member would specifically contribute to the group.
We then spent every afternoon collecting data to answer our research questions. While each group was met with challenges ranging from collecting run-off water instead of water with varying salinity to hitting a steep learning curve to identify bird calls to wearing boots with troublesome new holes, every group collected a serious amount of data in four days.
Data in hand, we worked with Excel and statistical programs to scientifically answer our curiosities through analyzing and graphically representing our data. We used the remaining week to write and revise individual scientific research papers and to create research presentations.
We celebrated our research and time creating new knowledge about the natural world by presenting our research presentations last Friday, April 25th at the Freeport Community Center. Thank you all for coming and for watching our presentations live on our first CSG video feed!
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
As we wrapped up the “Observation” unit in Coastal Adventure class last week, the CSG girls widened their perspectives on all fronts, from interpreting the environment to interpreting a poem.