Friday, November 30, 2012

The Worm Farm: Paying a House Call

It's been a while since the red wiggler worms set up housekeeping in Ms. Breneus's kindergarten classroom.  In fact it was time for our gardening expert Ms. Flaherty to check in on them, to make sure they had everything they needed to be healthy and as happy as worms can be.

Off came the cover, so Ms. Flaherty could look at the wigglers.  She wasn't the only one who was curious.  The worms seemed to be okay; they were indeed wiggling.

One boy asked to hold a worm.  He had to learn to be gentle and not squeeze.  

He enjoyed it so much that Ms. Flaherty decided all the kids should have a chance.  Next week, she'll come and the kids will get to look closely at the worms like scientists and learn through observation.  Maybe we can bring some magnifying glasses so they can really get a good peek.

Ms. Flaherty explained that we didn't want the paper to dry out--or, the worms either.  So each student who wanted to could spritz the paper one, two, three times.

As Ms. Flaherty circled the room giving the kids turns, other students drew pictures of their new class pets.  Here is Emanuel's.

Brianna did a fine job too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Plimoth Plantation: A Field Trip Back in Time

The kids knew the idea behind Plimoth Plantation, the historical living museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where modern people dress in the clothes of long ago and interpret the past.  That means you can ask them about TVs and they will look puzzled.  Or mention President Obama and they won't know who that is, or even what the United States is, because they are living in 1627, seven years after the Mayflower arrived in the New World.

All our third graders saw a replica, or copy, of the Mayflower. They were able to study it outside...

and in.

In the village, it took our kids a little while to get used to the fact that modern people were buried so deep beneath their costumes, that visitors felt as if they were talking to someone who had actually lived in Plimoth almost 400 years ago.  These modern people had studied so much that they could answer any questions the kids had.

Once the kids understood that, the questions came fast and furious.  One group cornered a village resident for at least minutes. What does he eat everyday?  What is he building (a house).  How does he use his knife?  What was it like coming over on the Mayflower?  Was it scary?

They moved on to a women tending her garden.  Was she angry at King James, they asked.  Not really, she said.  Royals do not pay much mind to common folk such as themselves.  The villagers had much more anger toward the leaders of their church.  They left England, in fact, because they were not allowed to worship the way they wanted to.

The kids learned that this woman also tended her farm animals: cows, sheep, and chickens. Then one student asked if it was possible to be a cow and a bull at the same time.  The woman smiled a little.  "Well, maybe we'd call that situation a steer," she said.

The kids listened to a man from the Wampanoag tribe he told them how he was making a mishoon - the Wampanoag word for boat - by using fire as a tool to hollow out a tree. 

What did Wampanoag kids do?  What kind of games did they play long ago?  Our Perkins kids got to check out the homemade dolls and toy mishoon they would have used. 

That was cool, but the fact that amazed them most of all was that in this Native American culture, there was no breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  There was always food on the fire, so people could eat whenever they were hungry.

This was an amazing trip into the past, but it was part of school as well.  Each of our students had a journal. They all had to sketch the Mayflower, label its parts, and compare the lifestyle of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  

The long ride back to South Boston was much quieter than the one to Plimoth.  The kids had a lot to think about.  Also, they were pretty tired. It had been quite a day

Monday, November 26, 2012

Another Way to Give Thanks

The Perkins kids left for the long Thanksgiving weekend thinking of turkey, stuffing (and, of course, a mini-vacation). Now, however the kids also knew that other Americans had  different fall harvest holidays to celebrate.

Ms. Jannette Vanderhoop is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah / Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard.  She came to talk to the Perkin kids about what it means to be a member of a Native American tribe – in the present 21st century and at the time the Pilgrims arrived in North America in the 17th century.

Her book Cranberry Day explains the major thanksgiving festival the Wampanoag Tribe celebrated long before the Pilgrims came to their land. In the old days, the celebration of the cranberry harvest was three days long.  Nowadays it is just one, but it is still lots of fun.  Kids don't go to school.  Elders of the tribe share stories of the past with them and everyone eats a feast--including cranberries, of course.

Ms. Vanderhoop also brought some of the cloths and traditional jewelry her people used to wear.

After she left, the kids had their own celebration; many classes turned much of what they learned into beautiful bulletin board displays.

Ms. Leverett-King's class demonstrated that the cranberry can be used for another purpose besides food and a good way to get enough vitamin C.

It can also be used for painting!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Making a Worm Farm

Ms. Murphy's second grade class elected a gecko to be their class pet.  Ms. Breneus's kindergarten class didn't have a choice about what their new pets would be.  Nevertheless, they are very happy. They have hundreds of red wiggler worms.

The Perkins School is a "seed" school for a program named SLUG (Students Learning through Urban Gardening).  Our wonderful volunteer Ms. Flaherty comes in regularly to work with many classes--including the kindergarten.  

You can't grow healthy plants without good soil.  One way to enrich soil is to make compost by letting leaves and old vegetables break down and become rich to soil to mix in with other dirt.  Another is to let worms do the work for you.

The kids set up their worm farm by putting shredded paper into a plastic box.  The worms would live in this paper; it would be like dirt to them.
If the worms lived in dry paper, they would dry out themselves.  So the kids added water, spraying it so it would just moisten the paper instead of making puddles.  Not too much.  Not too little.  Just the right amount.

Next came the food.  Coffee grounds and apple peels.  This may not sound delicious to you, but the worms love 'em!

Then it was time to move in.  

The worms all started out in the corner, but they don't like the light too much--even once the darker lid was placed on top of their new home.  What would they do?  Where would they go?  We'll have to wait and see.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Phase 2 Has Began At Last!

This blog started because over two years ago because an adventure was happening around the Perkins School.  Part of Old Colony, the oldest housing development in Boston, was being renovated.  Our students watched many of its old buildings come down.  Then they had a front row seat for the countless stages of construction that put the new ones in place.  They learned about architecture and building and many jobs they might want in the future.  Then there were all those trucks and cranes and front-end loaders!

Watching the buildings grow was pretty exciting.  

The finished product was too.  Kids have nice sidewalks to ride their bikes on and a new playground.  They have been to the Tierney Community Center to see great programs since the Perkins doesn't have its own auditorium.  The kids aren't the only people who think Phase 1 was a good idea.  Readers of Affordable Housing Finance magazine picked it over about 140 other projects as the year's Best Urban Project.

And, guess what?  It's starting to happen all over again.  

Politicians, city planners and developers, and builders came together to get the project started last week.  They made some speeches that basically said it takes a lot of work to do this kind of project--and, it's worth it.  It's good because it gives people from the neighborhood jobs and gives people from Old Colony a better place to live and makes South Boston a nicer community.  

Then came the fun part.  The first chunk of the building came down!

Now a new adventure begins.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The People Have Spoken

The country was busy on November 6th, Election Day.  So was the Perkins School.  It's hard to say if the kids were as tired as the adults on November 7th, but they were still pretty excited.  

Ms. Mansfield's class had taken their own vote. Obama had done better in our fourth grade than he did in the national tally, but he was still elected president of the United States.  One kid in this class was talking about watching the returns.  "At first he was behind," he said, "and I was worried.  But then later it changed."

Our kids also made some posters for their candidates, in which they wrote about issues important to them, including the need to vote.

Soon it will be back to math and other kinds of history.  Learning the need to participate in a democracy, however, is one of the most important lessons of all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Democracy by Doing--Part 4

"Why don't we vote by raising our hands," asked Aliciana.

"We do sometimes," answered Ms. Murphy," but this time we are voting the same way that adults vote for president.  We'll use secret ballots.  That way you can choose to vote for whatever pet you want. If you're in the Gecko Party, but after thinking about it, decided that a fish is better, you can vote for the fish without feeling any pressure.  No one will know your decision, but you."

It was finally Election Day for Ms. Murphy's second grade class.  After a few weeks of campaigning, they were voting for their new class pet.

Ms. Murphy showed them how to go to the booth and write down their choices on the big yellow Post-its.  Then she demonstrated folding the paper up so no one could see it while they walked to slip it in the ballot box.  

"Will your vote count?" someone called out.

"No," Ms. Murphy said.  "Adults are the only ones who can vote for president.  Here, kids are the only ones allowed to vote for our class pet."

Then the action began.  Kids took their pencils and Post-it and sat in the "voting booth" that had sides so no one could see their writing. Then they folded their ballot--one, two, three times--and took it to the box.

Then they folded their ballot--one, two, three times--and took it to the box.  

Principal Brawer popped his head in and added to the discussion.  "Sometimes voting is hard," he said.  "People make their choices and can feel bad when lose.  The same thing happens to adults who vote for the candidate who isn't elected president.  It's still important to all come together and support the winner of an election--whether it's a president or a hermit crab."

But would the pet be a hermit crab?  The tally began.  Vote after vote came out of the box and Ms. Murphy made mark beneath the candidates. For a while it was hard to know that animal was going to win.

Then the votes for the gecko surged.  The gecko won!

From this picture, it looks like most of the kids were pretty happy.  Maybe they took Mr. Brawer's words to heart.  Maybe they were just all excited that they would soon have a brand new member of the class.    

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Democracy by Doing--Part 3

This week's posts are following the election taking place in Ms. Murphy's class for the selection of the class pet:

Part of any campaign's goal is to convince voters that your choice is the best one.  There are many ways to do this.  You can explain all the logical reasons for your choice.  You can also appeal to a voter's emotions, make him or her feel happy about your choice.  Or, sad not to pick your choice.  

How do these signs make you think and feel?  Which party is winning your vote?  (Click on any sign to make it bigger and easier to read.)


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Democracy by Doing--Part 2

Yes, it's America's Election Day and adults are streaming (we hope!) to vote for the president of the United States.

If you had read yesterday's post, you'd know that our report on the race in Ms. Murphy's classroom had just begun.  The kids divided into three parties (The Fish Party, The Hermit Crab Party, and The Gecko Party).  They were campaigning to choose an animal to be their class pet.

They started to make posters and slogans to sell their candidates to their classmates.  

Some used the straightforward approach.

Some kids realized that all the advantages that they listed for having, say, a fish or gecko, would be good, persuasive points in a campaign. After all, a person from The Gecko Party might be convinced by a good argument to vote for a hermit crab on Election Day.  Or maybe the reverse. Right?

Good artwork or graphics are always helpful too.

Will the kids be able to change each others' minds?