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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Global Connections: The Water Project and Cape Town

Young Children as Advocates
Dana Bentley, Beginner North Teacher
Betty Chan, Beginner North Teacher


Over the past weeks we have continued to pursue our work on water, considering both the scientific process of cleaning water as well as the issue of water accessibility.  On Friday we will have the opportunity to Skype with Russell Stevens, the Director of Education at the Cape Town Aquarium. 
We are using these connections to develop our understandings about water in the world.  


In preparation for our Skype, we prepared some questions so that Russell will know what we are wondering about.  As we were talking, we looked at a big map of the world, noticing our location and the location of Cape Town.  We began by asking:

What do we know about Cape Town?
Jace: They don’t have enough water to survive.
Eleanor: Somebody said that they needed to have a little of water every day so they don’t run out of water this year
Christopher: They get a little water and we get a lot
Thomas: I’m going to draw a picture of how much water I drank and how much water they drank.

Who knows alot about Cape Town?
Christopher: The fifth grade!  They know a lot about Cape Town!
Nyla: And you guys.  Cause you told us about it and we wouldn’t have known.
Sydney: We can FaceTime him [Russell] in Cape Town and then we can talk about water and ask him about water.

Interview Questions
We began by posing the question: 

What do you want to know about water in Cape Town?  What are you wondering?
Nyla: What do they have so little water?
Sydney: How can you clean water?
Christopher: Do you boil the water?
Sydney: How can we clean the water?
Rosemary: Can we clean water with soap?
Dana: Can you take a bath in Cape Town?  Or is that too much water?
Eleanor: Do they have pools there?  If you have pools there, could you just get some water from there?
Thomas: Can you boil pool water to kill the chemicals?
Rosemary: Did you have a lot of water a long time ago?  What happened?
Audrey: How do you get to water to get it to your home?
Eleanor:  Why doesn’t it rain there?
Christopher: Do you have cars?
Joe: Do you have trucks?
Dana: Can you water your flowers?
Audrey: Do you have a washing machine? Can you use it?
Rosemary: Can you wash your clothes in a lake?
Joe: Can you use water balloons?
Christopher: Do you have water bottles at stores?
Rosemary:  What about your toilets?  When you flush it, is there water?
Tom: Can you use sprinklers?

We then  learned that Russell had a job at the Cape Town Aquarium and we wondered:
What about working at the aquarium?  What are you wondering about water at the aquarium?

Eleanor: How is there animals there that need water if there’s not a lot of water for them?
Nyla:  Why do you have aquariums if there’s not enough water?
Rosemary: How much water can a fish use?  And also, how long do the fish live?
Jace: Do you use all the water for the fish?  Is that why there’s not enough water?
Thomas: If you release the animals, will they have any water to swim?
We will be Skyping with Russell on Friday morning.  We look forward to the ways this connection will ignite new questions and understandings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

Religious Diversity in Greater Boston
Gustavo Carrera, US History & Social Sciences Department Head and Teacher

As part of the class’ work on exploring modern society and the tensions between modernity and tradition, the class is visiting religious institutions in the greater Boston area. In the winter we visited the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) in Roxbury. 

In their reflections the students remarked:

I enjoyed hearing Barbara’s perspective on the subject of religion and modernity….People assume that religion is stuck in the past, but she repeatedly emphasized that the conflict between religion and modernity is in reality non-existent.

I thought the visit to the mosque was a really interesting …The architecture there was very complex, but also simple at the same time, and I like how they used features from both the Islamic world and Boston within the mosque. Going to the mosque provided a small glimpse of the Islamic world …

I thought it was interesting how we talked about the degrees to which one could practice a certain religion. You could be a devout Muslim and pray five times daily, you could be Muslim "in name only", or you could fall somewhere in between. I would guess that the "degrees" of religiousness would start to become more apparent as modernization occurs and people adopt new ideas. I enjoyed watching the prayer and learning about the Quran.

Overall, I thought the field trip was very interesting. I always thought that Christianity and Islam were completely different, but they are actually quite similar in some aspects…It was nice to see something that opened my mind to other religions and different cultures.

I thought that our trip to the mosque was very interesting … I wasn’t expecting to be able to watch the prayer so I was excited to see that. I am glad that our class when to this mosque because I would have never gone on my own, and I am always looking to try and learn new things. I learned a lot on this trip and I can’t wait to go to the other synagogue and church.

BB&N Article - Middle School Launches Interfaith Pilot Initiative

Faith Traditions in our Community
Stefanie Haug, MS Counselor
Sasha Bergmann, MS Ceramics Teacher
Beth Brooks, MS Librarian
Youssef Talha, MS French Teacher

A rabbi, a reverend, and an Islamic educator walk into room…it may sound like a bad joke, but when those exact circumstance came to pass in the Middle School Big Room this February, the punchline was an enlightening exploration of faith.
Middle School Students examine a Torah during a synagogue visit.
As part of a pilot program undertaken by the Middle School, eighth grade students enjoyed the opportunity to engage in an eye-opening interfaith study and immersion initiative this winter. Over a series of four weeks, students learned about the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) participated in field trips to a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, and attended a panel discussion at BB&N with a rabbi, a reverend, and an Islamic educator.
Organized by Middle School faculty Stefanie Haug, Sasha Bergman, Youseff Talha, and Beth Brooks, the pilot program sought to demystify misperceptions about the different faiths, and perhaps more importantly, to underscore how much the three faiths have in common.
Based off of feedback from a two-year, School-initiated reflection and query into BB&N’s cultural competency, the pilot was a groundbreaking attempt to address issues raised by the students as sources of curiosity.
“When we looked at some of the survey results from our cultural competency work, we discovered that Middle School students had many questions about religion that were not being specifically targeted in our curriculum,” says Middle School counselor Stefanie Haug. “We value holistic learning at BB&N…learning about yourself and your relationships to other people is a huge part of teaching. We wanted to find a way to explore the diversity that makes us who we are…and faith is a big part of that.”
After much discussion and planning, it was decided that the pilot would focus on the three Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) due to their similar ancestry and the fact they comprise the three largest religious groups in the U.S. The initiative manifested as a series of discussions with Reverend Matt Carriker, Rabbi Natan Margalit, Ph.D., and Islam educator Barbara Sahli, along with visits to each religious leader’s respective church, synagogue, and mosque.
In their panel discussion in the Middle School Big Room, the guests spoke about their faith and answered questions from students. All three landed on the same point when asked what they love most about being Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, speaking about the importance of being part of a community that guides people to do good, and live up to ideals highlighted by each faith. As students discovered, all three of the religions share very similar ideals.
Particularly poignant was Sahli’s insight into being a Muslim following the 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center. She noted that the first instinct was “put your head down, and hide for fear of anger,” but she quickly realized that outreach, education, and dialogue were more essential than ever to allow people to understand that the attacks did not reflect true Islam.
Middle School director Mary Dolbear considers the pilot and ensuing discussions to be some of the most important learning undertaken at the Middle School in her time at BB&N.
“I am deeply proud of our MS Faith Project pilot,” Dolbear says. “The guest panel was powerful. The focus on people’s stories are always impactful, but for this age group, it was an even more effective format to invite kids into the conversation. A huge takeaway was something we don’t get to hear much about: the similarities between the three faiths.”
Following the fields trips and panel discussions, students met again to study poetry from each faith, and reflect on what they had learned, including a general discussion about the importance of finding common ground in a community comprised of varying beliefs.
The interfaith pilot was made possible through an Urban Connections Grant, a School-funded resource allowing faculty to implement creative programs that connect curriculum with the verdant urban resources surrounding BB&N.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Our Evolving Work on Water

Young Children as Advocates
Dana Bentley, Beginner North Teacher
Betty Chan, Beginner North Teacher

Focusing Our Knowledge, Incorporating New Information: Our Evolving Work on Water

What do we know?
Today in BNorth we began to delve deeper into our knowledge about water, and the need for water in the world. We began this discussion by sharing our knowledge, framing our discussion around the questions:
Who has water?
Who does not have water?

We began by focusing on our knowledge about the water in our lives:
Jace: I have water. I get them from the pipes.
Joe: I got the water from the pipes.
Christopher: You get water from pipes.
Eleanor: I use the water for boiling and sometimes to drink.
Thomas: I get water from the pipes.
Charlie: Sometimes when I use water to cook when it gets hot it gets to steam and that’s one of the 3 stages. It has 2 more. I think they are …I remember ice but I don’t remember the other. Just regular water.
Rosemary: After steam it’s ice?
Charlie: Umm no. It bubbles when its boiling.

Shifting to the Global
We then refocused the conversation on the broader world, wondering:
Who does not have water?
Shreya: The Water Princess does not have water but I have water and I get water from the pipes and the pipes are in the sink and the sink sprays water in the cup for me to drink.
Rosemary: So you can’t drink water out of a lake because it’s not clean so it’s the people that work at the pipes they clean it out. They clean out the dirty things so you can drink and they put it in the pipes and it sends it to your house.
Sydney: I do not have water because I lost my water bottle and it’s at after care.
Rosemary: Everything needs water. Not like paper and other things but things that are nature and alive need water because water helps nature grow and water people drink.
Eleanor: Well animals that live in the ocean, they need water because they need to swim around or they can’t…

We thought about Eleanor’s comment and wondered,
Can we drink water from the ocean?
Rosemary: No, because it has salt in it.
Eleanor: Or it has chemicals.
Shreya: Animals and everyone needs water so they can shower and plants can grow and sea animals. We cant drink it from the ocean water because it might have germs.   The animals might stick their tongues out and the water you get might be the water that touches the animals tongue.
Nyla: And you cant drink ocean water because the animals in the sea can pee in it and that’s why you have to wash it before you drink it.

Water Needs: A Story of Cape Town
We then shared some initial information about Cape Town.  We shared that Cape Town is a real city, that has had very little rain in the past years. People need water, and they are running out.  We explained that all of the people are only allowed to use a little bit of water every day.  We learned that they will run out of water very soon, and that day is called Day Zero.  After hearing a bit about Cape Town, we had some questions and comments:
Charlie: Are there big lakes there?
We wondered, Are there big lakes in that part of Africa?
Charlie: No because there is not lakes.
Rosemary: In the jungle there are lakes but they are dirty.

Planning for Action
At this point in the conversation, the children naturally turned to solutions they could provide.  They shared their ideas, as well as some concerns they had. 
Shreya: You could give them (people in Cape Town) some water since we already have our own sinks we can give them some of our water.
Christopher: But then we’ll waste some of ours.
Rosemary: But we have tons of water and maybe some snow.
Christopher: What if it runs out?
Thomas: Can they just go get some at the grocery store?

We thought about this and wondered, Do you think the stores in Cape Town have a lot of water?
Thomas: I think all the people already took all the water from the store.  So, there could also be this shuttle.  We could-every time we come in the school, just take a little bit of water.  Then we could deliver the water to Africa. I saw these planes that are delivery planes that go all over the world. It has a mail symbol. We can go deliver the water as a field trip!
Eleanor: Somebody can tell everybody that lives in Cambridge to get a little it of water and send it. But we have to put those waters, one part to the other. After we can make a whole cup.

Offering More Information
With the children thinking critically about solutions to this issue, we wanted to offer a bit more information about work that is being done in Africa. We shared a bit more about Georgie Badeil (the Water Princess), and the wells that are being dug in schools. We looked at some images, and shared what we know about wells.
Bennett: You pump it and goes into the bucket and you take it back.
Christopher: You twist the thing and it goes down and goes in.
Rosemary: It comes from the lake.
Tom: I saw this before in a book. The well was so deep you need a bucket and you need a rope to pull, pull, pull.
Shreya: If Africa is so hot, why don’t they have water?
Jace: If water was so hot it dries.
Charlie: It’s so sandy and hot so the water evaporates.
Rosemary: Maybe a long time ago they had a lot and now they don’t.

Moving Forward
We have brought in some new texts as resources for better understanding water, and will be exploring some of the outreach projects that are a part of the book The Water Princess. We have also connected with the fifth graders, who are also exploring this issue from different lenses.  They will be joining us on Friday to share some of their knowledge and experience.  We are excited to see where this work will lead us!

Emerging Work: Global Education in the Early Years

Young Children as Advocates
Dana Bentley, Beginner North Teacher
Betty Chan, Beginner North Teacher

Over the past week we have been doing some critical reading of the text The Water Princess. Through our readings, and critical thinking about this book, we are working on several different issues, and some fascinating plans are emerging. We would like to share with you some conversation that emerged from the book, and our curricular thinking around these discussions.

Re-Reading, Re-Telling, and Thinking Critically
What do we know about The Water Princess?  What is important to know about this story?
Alex: When they collect the water it was dirty.
Christopher: They don’t have any sinks.
Joe: That there is real pictures of the water princess.
Audrey: Those are people who are actually getting real water.
Gia: They boil it to get it clean.
Nyla: They have to walk so far.
Alex: When they rested, they ate the shea nuts and we don’t know what shea nuts are.
Thomas: We do know about chestnuts.

Teacher Reflection
In this retelling of our memories we are working on several elements of learning. We are working on comprehension, illuminating essential components of the story, and integrating our memories with the memories of others. When engaging deeply with a text, we read it many times, developing deep understandings, questions, and critical questions that can only emerge from developing strong relationships with a work.

Emergent Curriculum and Combating Stereotypes
Why are we reading The Water Princess?
Gia: Shreya's Word Wizard was "princess" and people were talking about princesses, the ones which were not what Shreya drew. So Shreya is right about some princesses but some are not like that.
Audrey: Everyone was talking about princesses like Mulan and Moana.
Thomas: It’s just like Wonder Woman.
Eleanor: It’s the water princess.
Audrey: It means she can go in the water.

Teacher Reflection
This question and the following responses exemplify the ways that provocations in the classroom inspire children’s critical thinking, and how those ideas and discussions are then reframed as curriculum.  Through the practice of Word Wizard, a complex discussion about the highly gendered construct of “princess” emerged. The children offered different perspectives on this concept; we as teachers used this as a inspiration to begin problematizing the stereotype through rich discussion and literature, such as The Water Princess. The children see themselves, their story, and their questions reflected in the ever-evolving curriculum challenging them to engage authentically with anti-bias work.

Connecting with the Larger World: Global Education in Early Childhood
Is this story happening now, or a long time ago?
Tom: It's a long time ago.  Because there is no airplanes in the desert and the desert is not near the earth.
Gia: I think it’s a long, long time ago. Because princesses were a long, long time and they are now extinct.
Eleanor: She couldn’t control the water. It’s the only thing she could not control.
Nyla: I think it’s real because princesses are alive right now. And I heard you say it was now.
Joe: It was a long time ago but not really. Because it was like this long.
Audrey: It was a really, really long time ago. Because the book makes it seem a really long time ago. It was real. It seems like it was really long. It might be right now.
Shreya: it was a long, long time ago because maybe then they don’t know yet if that’s its true but they know a little but of that.
Eleanor: The book is a long time ago because those houses don’t look like what they are now.
Audrey: We can go to the supermarket and get that we are lucky. Since we have a supermarket, we can go and we don’t have to walk
Thomas: We can bring all the water jugs we don’t need and bring to goodwill and they can have it. It sells it to kids and people that are homeless that don’t have money!

Teacher Reflection
We framed this question because we want to support the children in understanding the larger world and needs beyond their own. When reading books such as these, it is easy for the children to distance themselves with ideas of “long, long ago” because global realities are so far from their experiences.  Through these conversations, we work with the children to understand their thinking, and to help them develop an age-appropriate awareness of larger needs in the world and the ways they might have an impact.

Identifying an Issue, Making a Plan: Initial Conversations in Global Projects
At this point, we chose to share some information with the children.  Beginners North was awarded an Urban Connections Grant for the 2017-2018 year, entitled Young Children as Advocates.  We have been working with the children over the course of the year, looking for the ways in which advocacy would emerge from their work.  We shared this information with them, explaining:
We got something called a grant. This means that we have a little bit of money and we have to use it for our class to help people. We have been worrying about this, and wondering what we should do
with the money.  We have been wondering about how you would like to help.  What do you think? What are your ideas?

Nyla: We could go to the supermarket and buy all those things, and then we can donate them to places and to kids who walk (like in the Water Princess).  And if we have leftovers, we can just go to the supermarket and buy more stuff.  In the book they have no water and no food.  Oh wait, I think they have food!
Gia: They have shea nuts.
Eleanor We can’t go to the supermarket. We have to go on a long field trip and we have to go on a school bus to a supermarket. It would take a long time. Also, kids might want to buy food for themselves!
Tom: I don’t think that it would be long. I know a market.
Thomas: The teachers won’t buy you something because they are teachers. Teachers don’t buy stuff.  Remember those money boxes  that we made? (referring to our Halloween UNICEF boxes) 
Eleanor: People that want their money to come to this class, you can give it to them and they can give it you back.  Then they can come to this class.
Thomas: We could bring it (money) to the delivery plane and it could fly to Africa.
Shreya: We could. Sometimes I see a truck that sells me some mail. I think maybe we could mail the water to the girls. And the people that need it. And it put it in the mail airplane and because I see it when I was at a beach.
Joe: So you should actually if people give you more money then you will get a lot of groceries. For our class in case we run out.
Nyla: We could donate the money to the shop people and we could get all the food and people need and deliver it to Africa and every other kid that needs it. And if I had a little more money I could deliver it to the school and we could add it.
Alex: The people that don’t have food are the poor people. Poor means you don’t have a lot of money and drinks.
Eleanor: Maybe we could like take a field trip and then donate some money.

Teacher reflection
To begin this conversation, we presented the children with a genuine problem/question, framing them as problem solvers and planners. This process supports children in engaging in deep critical thinking, as they are given real information, framed within their understandings of real issues in the world. The authenticity inherent in this process frames children as leader and change makers in the world. In these early conversations, you will notice that we give children the flexibility to express all of their ideas.  If you listen closely to the conversation, they are offering perspectives and plans, shifting their own thinking, and coming closer to developing cohesive thinking about social action.  Our conversation closed with the children noticing, “We have lots of different ideas!  But only a little bit of money.”  There was silence in the room, soon followed by Eleanor’s voice:
“We could put our ideas all together!”

This solution was met with enthusiasm from the rest of the class.  We look forward to the unfolding of this important work in Beginners North.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Faith Traditions in our Community

Faith Traditions in our Community
Stefanie Haug, MS Counselor
Sasha Bergmann, MS Ceramics Teacher
Beth Brooks, MS Librarian
Youssef Talha, MS French Teacher

The Interfaith Initiative pilot was launched on February 1st, 2018 with 8th grade to review the three abrahamic religions. Please visit our introductory presentation below.

For the next three Fridays, the 8th grade will rotate field trips to a mosque, temple and chapel.  In addition, three faith leaders from the above places of worship will visit BB&N and provide discussion and Q&A with the 8th graders.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Children as Advocates: Beginnings

Young Children as Advocates
Dana Bentley, Beginner North Teacher
Betty Chan, Beginner North Teacher

Establishing Individual and Group Identity: “Me” Stories and “We” Stories 

Teacher Perspective:

When doing advocacy work with young children, it is essential that they first establish a sense of their own identities in the school space.  It is only when children feel seen and known that they are able to turn outward to their potential impacts on the broader community.  It is through the establishment of this powerful sense of identity that children feel the peace and security that allows them to consider the  needs of a larger community.

As children begin to establish their identities, they ignite connections across their community.  They begin to “know” one another, and to share communal stories of the “we” they are becoming.  As teachers, we highlight these connections to the children, helping them to see each other in relation to one another, and bringing their community stories to the forefront.  As the “we” stories of the community grow, the children become a more confident and cohesive whole.  It is from this space that they are able to connect as a community and turn to change they wish to make in the larger world.

During the first months of school, we focus on these elements of the children’s identities, establishing a strong foundation from which advocacy can grow.  Interlaced with this work is a focus on fundamental anti-bias work, setting the groundwork for their perspectives and our community standards over the course of the year.

Teacher Reflection Questions:
Who are these children?
What are their stories?
Do they feel seen and heard?
How can we highlight all children’s stories and identities?
What is the story of the community?
How are the children connecting with one another?
How might we make these stories visible?
What are the shared interests and questions emerging from the community?
What habits of mind are we supporting as a part of our classroom culture?

Foundational Project Work:

Portfolios: Developing and Sharing Family Pages

The “Me” Story:
As a part of their classroom work, every child developed a “family page” as the introduction to his or her portfolio.  This is direct connection between home and school, framing the child’s home life as central to their school identity as well.  Children then share their page with their classmates, bringing their home stories into the culture of the classroom.

The “We” Story:
When these stories are shared, classmates are invited to ask questions and to make comments.  The stories told, shared, and discussed become a part of our community as a whole, sharing not only children’s individual identity, but creating knowledge and connections through shared story.  Through this process, children’s families and their family stories become a part of the fabric of our classroom community.

The Advocacy Connection:
Children have to develop connections and relationships that encompass similarities and difference in order to evolve as advocates.  A fundamental building block of this process is family, and the diversity of the families represented within a classroom community.  Through the sharing of these stories as a part of the “official” curriculum, the many faces and forms of family are brought to the forefront of our classroom, becoming not just visible, but a part of our story.  Through sharing, embracing, questioning, and collaborating around our stories of family, those diversities become part of a shared identity.  In this way, we position the children as advocates for the diversities of family represented within our community.

The Colors of Us: Mixing Our Own Skin Color


The “Me” Story:
To begin some of our anti-bias work in Beginners North, we investigated the colors available in our paint collection.  We noticed that none of them were the right color for any of our skin color.  Going through a process of discussion and problem solving, we realized that our skin is all different, so we would need 19 different colors for all of us to be represented in our paint collection.  Working with our art teacher Vanessa, we looked closely at our skin colors, carefully tested and mixed them, and created names that described our own skin tones, thus physically representing each of us in the classroom space.

The “We” Story:
The Colors of Us is also a “we” story.  Using the concrete materials of paint, we thought about representation, and about every member of the community.  We considered the need to represent all of our bodies in paint, and considered our connections and differences.  This became a part of our shared story as well.  Finally, we completed this process with the development of collaborative community standards.  We signed this document with our handprints, using the skin color paints that we developed.  This “document” now hangs in our classroom, a visual representation of the many shades of us, and the ways in which we come together in caring for our community.

The Advocacy Connection:
Many biases emerge and grow in the silences.  When we ignore differences, when it is not invited into the body of our classroom work, we breed discomfort and fear around discussions about diversities.  “The Colors of Us” was a process by which we brought some of our basic differences to the center of the classroom, making these differences a safe part of our community discussions.  Through looking at skin color, naming, thinking through ideas of representation, we enable early thinking and meaning making about anti-bias work.

The Artifact Project


The “Me” Story:
As part of our work as a class this semester, each child has had the opportunity to bring home the “artifact bag.”  This tool instructs students and families to pack three objects that have a home story that the child would like to share.  Each child shares these objects with her or his classmates, taking questions and comments as a part of this process.  The objects are then housed in an “exhibit” in the classroom that showcases that child’s image as well as the objects that she or he shared.
This process offers another powerful connection between home and school culture, inviting children to make their home stories and adventures visible in the context of their classroom life.  By keeping these artifacts in the classroom, they are visual signal of the connection between home and school, inviting the child’s home experiences into their school life.

The “We” Story:
Through this sharing process, children make connections to each other’s broader life experiences.  The presence of these objects in our classroom space invites a continued relationship and questioning that is a part of the development of these connections.  Finally, all children’s objects are set up as observational drawing prompts, so that each set of objects has a “turn” to be the focus of the class’ observational drawing.  As the children look closely at each other’s objects, ask questions, and draw, they represent each other, and literally draw connections to one another, while also working on a range of other academic skills.


The Advocacy Connection:
The Artifact Project establishes a higher level of collaboration and close thinking about diversities, home stories, school stories, and our relationships within the classroom community.  As the children have become more established in the classroom, they are better able to look beyond their own stories, and into the ideas and experiences of their classmates.  In thinking about anti-bias, advocacy work, we work closely with children in slowly stepping outward, from self, to dyads, to community connections, to researching and deeply knowing the classroom group as a whole.  As we go through this process, we work with children to deeply know, investigate, and celebrate diversities.  Through this process, we position children as advocates, holding their stories, the stories of others, and the shared stories they have developed through evolving identities.