Deans' Den Blog
Welcome to the Deans' Den blog! I, Mrs. Waters, have set a fun goal for myself this year, which is to get into the Brooks School classrooms every week.
As the Academic Dean, I really want to connect with the student academic experience, and thought the best way to do this would be to act like a student! I will share with you my experiences accompanying students across all forms to all of their different subjects.
If you have any ideas, or there is something you want to see, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 27, 2019
It was a big day for sports fans at Brooks School! Our boys varsity basketball team, seeded third in the NEPSAC tournament, took on the St. George's School dragons and won 65-43.
The theme for the fan section was "beach" and the kids came dressed in their very best (some adults too!).
Our students have a strong tradition of incorporating aspects of school hymns into their cheers, and Wednesday was no exception. Strains of "Seek Ye First" and "Draw the Circle Wide" could be heard at impressive decibels ringing through the gym.
After the boys secured the win the beach party moved to the rink, where our girls varsity ice hockey team, seeded first in NEPSAC, took on the Vermont Academy wildcats.
We were all blown away by the level of play. Our girls' insane hustle, playmaking, and smart decision-making won the day and they beat Vermont 4-3. Regardless of how the weekend tournament games go, Brooksians are very proud of their athletes!
February 20, 2019
Early morning cries of "I'm going to need you to explain this to me really slowly, Mr. Burbank," and "Can we please go over the last question from homework last night?" transported me right back to my own pre-calculus experience. Except that I was probably terrified to a point of being mute, whereas this bunch of students was lively and comfortable in their engagement.
Trigonometric talk of unit circles, reference and acute angles, degrees and radians, and arc length ensued as students practiced how to measure angles using different modes.
Mr. Burbank was making good on his objective to unwrap the circle and get the class to sinusoidal functions. I felt like if I stayed, maybe I could get there too, buoyed by a strong team atmosphere!
february 18, 2019
Centered, grounded, aware of my energy channels and feeling, not looking, at the clay whizzing between my hands. I relied upon the guidance of my colleague, Lynn McLoughlin, as I sat at the wheel in her ceramics class this afternoon.
In my adulthood, I have found that I really enjoy moments of uncomplicated inexperience. Lynn asked, "Do you know what you're doing?" I positively exclaimed, "No! I don't!" I was genuinely happy to be in the position of thinking, feeling, "Please, teach me."
Most of the time I feel I need to have answers, whether it's as an administrator with my colleagues, as a history teacher with my students, as a coach with my players, an advisor to my advisees, or as a parent with my own children. Blessed are the moments where I can be new to something, humbled entirely by my lack of knowledge, skills and experience.
And there I was today, with the snow falling softly outside the ceramics studio, a lump of clay in my hands and Lynn's encouragement in my ears. I was a student.
FEBRUARY 13, 2019
Double double toil and trouble... who remembers these opening lines from MacBeth? Did you know they are in trochaic tetrameter, or beats of four (with the emphasis on the first syllable)? I learned in Ms. Binder's English II class today that this can be interpreted as a sign of evil. These are wicked witches we're reading about, and the fact their verse isn't in iambic pentameter is a tip off! The human ear prefers iambic pentameter, beats of five, because it reminds us of our heartbeat. Ms. Binder moved the lesson out to the hall and engaged her students in an interactive circle game.
They first practiced clapping beats around the perimeter, then matching verbal cues with their steps across the circle, then they put it together to recite original verse in iambic pentameter! The experience was a memorable one that got us out of comfort zones and connecting our own creative musings to famous examples like Romeo's soliloquies about Juliet.
FEBRUARY 8, 2019
I have commandeered a bulletin board in the main hallway of the link to post some good old fashioned print news, hoping that it will catch students' eyes as they walk by on their way to and from classes. Headlines so far have explored debates over whether or not the war in Afghanistan is winnable, if the EPA should exist and if your DNA should be used to help solve crimes without your knowledge. Other topics have included the crisis in Yemen and climate change affecting the gender of babies.
So far I have seen one adult stop to read the news over the past few weeks. I shall persist! In perhaps a more exciting development, a Winter Term class inspired the installation of a flat screen across from the Endicott Peabody bust that features surveys and sign ups via QR code. In this picture, you can see the musical and weekend events being advertised, and the QR code provides a way of signing up for the activities!
February 7, 2019
Today in Modern World History, the students gathered in an 18th century "coffee house" and exchanged Enlightenment era ideas, taking on the personas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson and Mary Wollstonecraft (even though women would have been excluded during the 1700s).
They learned that the emergence of coffee houses in London and the stimulant's increasing popularity helped to foster intellectualism, since caffeine had a more beneficial effect on one's conversational skills than the previous drink of choice- alcohol! Ms. Nasser served up some of Dunkin Donuts' finest to our fourth formers, including Alex Natalizio, Will Abate and Omolade Mebude, pictured here:
february 2, 2019
While Americans were observing Groundhog Day on February 2, the French — and Brooks School French Second Level students — were celebrating La Chandeleur!
Translated to "Candlemas," the holiday marks Jesus's presentation at the temple in Jerusalem. On this day, the French make crêpes, a tradition that many think started with Pope Gelasius I handing out pancakes to religious pilgrims in Rome. The circular shape of the crêpes is also believed to resemble the sun, a nod to the days getting longer with the anticipation of spring!
February 1, 2019
Rape of the Sabines! Cloelia! I walked into some colorful, engaging storytelling in Latin I with Magistra McCampbell this morning! With the National Latin Exam to look forward to, Magistra was reminding her students of the importance of cultural context for their language learning. The class then moved on to practicing relative pronouns and a discussion around declining words. (I learned we don't have many of the latter remaining in the English language.) The students participated in a nifty game that worked on both pronunciation and memorization. I was impressed by the equally supportive and competitive atmosphere!
January 24, 2019
Today I returned to A.P. European History to join in on a simulation of the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna. Alas, I have no pictures to prove it, as I was busy playing the part of Robert Castlereagh, representing Great Britain.
I was joined around the table by Prussia, Austria, Russia and France, trying to decide what to make of post-Napoleonic Europe. Negotiations included territorial claims, indemnities and military occupations, among other considerations. Expertly facilitated, the Congress even included a break in the action when Napoleon returned from Elba and the Hundred Days ensued. The students were eager to forge alliances and put their 1789 and 1792 maps to use, appreciating the sacrifices of each country in helping to quell Napoleon's advances, yet wary of the countries' respective nationalist ambitions.
It was an enjoyable challenge to advocate for Great Britain's maritime interests and assure their colonial holdings while the other powers around the table vied for border regions and argued liberal vs. conservative stances on self-determination. We all came away appreciating the complexity of diplomacy and impressed by the 50 years peace that followed the Congress of Vienna.
January 18, 2019
This evening Brooks hosted a Winter Term Symposium to share with our larger community all of the experiences and learning born out of our coursework over the past few weeks! For the second time, I co-taught a course titled "Six Feet Under: The Art, Science and Business of Death" with my colleagues Amanda Nasser and Leigh Perkins.
At the symposium, students presented on topics ranging from near death experiences, to mediumship, to final disposition. I enjoyed surveying the room and seeing visitors down on the ground crawling into body bags and getting toe tagged, and hearing kids ask their parents if they believe in an afterlife.
Our quest to normalize conversations around death, which is a universal truth we all share, was happening all around us! Cheers to a group of fourth formers who were game to speak with a mortician and visit a funeral home, to confer with Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist faith leaders about death, who toured graveyards and tried writing epitaphs and elegy of their own, who braved a cold ghost tour of Salem, who learned about forensic pathology from the Chief Medical Examiner and who observed autopsies!
We are very proud of our "deathlings" and hope their experience helped to shift the "behind closed doors" culture around death, dying and how we process loss.
January 15, 2019
Lucky me, I benefitted from the good fortune of being picked as the female chaperone to accompany "The Complexity of War" Winter Term class to Washington, D.C.! Comprised of 14 third-form students, along with Mr. Packard and Mr. Waters, the group was high-energy and very engaged in their experiential learning.
On Tuesday, we visited the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, the Holocaust Museum, the Pentagon to meet with Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer '72, and Arlington National Cemetery to pay our respects to Alexi Whitney '96.
On Wednesday, we visited the Vietnam, Korea and Lincoln Memorials, met with a CIA officer to hear more about Mr. Whitney and their line of work, and then spent enriching hours at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the Newseum. Needless to say, it was a stimulating and thought-provoking 48 hours! The students asked great questions of their hosts and docents wherever they went, and did not let the government shutdown get in the way of their educational tourism!
November 9, 2018
On Friday night I took my five-year-old daughter to see "Stories from Afar," the fall student production. It was the last of eight performances across local towns for the troupe, who closed out their run in the Brooks black box theater, housed in the new Center for the Arts.
Featuring stories from Poland, China and Nigeria, about frog princesses and thieving dragons among other fantastical imaginings, the performances were lively and interactive. The little kids sitting in the front rows were called upon to supplement the storyline or jump in to act out a character. They paused for a singalong, led by Katie O'Brien '19, which you can enjoy in this video. As always, I was impressed by the commitment and talents of our students, and my daughter left enthralled by the storytelling. I think it's safe to say she is now looking up to the "big kids" more than ever!
NOVEMBER 5, 2018
This week, I spent several days on the campus of Northfield Mount Hermon School, serving on a Visiting Committee for the New England Association of Schools & Colleges. Every ten years, an educational institution under this association's purview must complete a reaccreditation process, which includes two years dedicated to the creation of a self-study report prior to the Committee's visit to campus. A colleague shared with me ahead of time that it would be hard work, but also some of the most rewarding professional development I would ever experience. True on both counts!
I learned a tremendous amount about the 15+ standards on which a school is evaluated, about how to truly engage in a collaborative writing process, and above all, a lot about NMH and their impressive programming, faculty and students, who were incredibly hospitable to us. A major bonus is that among my Committee colleagues, I found ten new friends from other independent secondary schools. I learned a lot from them and look forward to crossing paths at conferences and school visits in the years to come!
November 1, 2018
Today, I was a “shark” in A.P. World History! Ms. Nasser had her class prepare presentations targeting the College Board, who are promoting a redesign to the A.P. World History curriculum that would start African history in 1500. That would mean that students would not learn about economically prospering, culturally rich African Empires, but only about Africa in the context of the Slave Trade. Well, not without a fight from our fourth formers!
The students presented on the government, commerce and religion of empires like Mali, Ghana and Songhai. They addressed me, in the style of the TV show "Shark Tank," imagining that I was a College Board representative whom they needed to convince. Let's just say that if I worked at the College Board, I would not dare to drop pre-1500 from the curriculum. The students were very convincing, indeed!
October 23, 2018
Francois-Marie Arouet, at your service. This morning, I took on the personage of Voltaire to attend an A.P. European History Enlightenment-era salon, hosted by Mrs. Musto as Madame du Deffand.
John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot and Immanuel Kant were also present! We discussed rights of the individual, racial hierarchy, morality and the roles of religion and government in society, among other topics. I thoroughly enjoyed my preparation and participation in the discussion, and was so impressed by the quality of student contribution.
October 20, 2018
In honor of National Writing Day this past week, Ms. Binder initiated a collaborative sidewalk storytelling trend amongst English II classes. Members of our community have been enjoying their creations as we walk up and down Main Street.
Saturday morning proved no exception, as I spied Ms. Perkins's fourth form students writing their own story outside my office window. I ran outside to catch them in action. In speaking with them, I learned that they had just finished a short story unit. In working together to add their words to the pavement, they were focusing on varying sentence structure, moving the plot along in only nine sentences, and being sensitive to building off of one another's ideas as opposed to saying "no."
Having recently read The Things They Carried, they will now turn their attention to creating their own "Brooks Backpack" full of the things they carry in their daily lives. I look forward to learning more about each student once their projects are on display in the academic building!
October 12, 2018
My grandfather always reminded me that, "Variety is the spice of life." And for that reason, I love my job! No sooner had I taught my own history class first period, than I found myself standing on a table, serving as a model for Advanced Drawing during second period. By 9:45 a.m. I had a smock on and was trying my hand at using an ink brush to capture the likeness of a student.
I listened to Concert Chorale sing beautifully at School Meeting and then took a phone call with Ben Riggs '63 to discuss his participation in my upcoming Winter Term course titled "Six Feet Under." We discussed near death experiences, expansive consciousness and parapsychology.
Following a few meetings and a quick bite of lunch, I was invited into Honors Anatomy to hear them present their creative projects: brochures, PSA, songs and posters on diseases and conditions of the skin. I learned from Jadie DeLeon '19 about alopecia, Vicky Haghighi '19 about albinism, and Taylor Berberian '19 on melanoma before making my merry way back to the office.
Skip ahead to 9:15 p.m. in the Chace House common room and I found myself in the midst of 24 boys dressed in black ready to take on a rival dorm in dodge ball. They even let faculty child Kelly McVeigh join in the fun!
The emails and paperwork got done, but will quickly fade from memory. However, I don't think the students or I will soon forget my time as an art class model, the choral performance in front of the school, the real life prep work for becoming a doctor or pharmaceutical rep, or the competitive dodgeball match up during the "Friday Free." Hard to beat a work day like this one!
October 6, 2018
I snuck into Honors Biology this morning as Ms. Mandzhukova was leading the students through review, prior to a quiz. Turns out, it was a health and nutrition lesson in disguise!
The students were studying cellulose, starch and lipids and how they appear in membranes (linear versus branch), and the advantages and disadvantages associated with each in providing animals with energy. I learned that cows have four compartments in their stomachs, each with a different function, and microbes galore to assist them in breaking down their high cellulose diet of grasses. Athletes carbo-load before games to get glucose-rich starch, found in pasta and potatoes, to convert into energy.
Finally, I learned that our bodies don't produce unsaturated fats, so it's better for us to eat them to balance out the saturated fats we do make. It's important we have lipids, because otherwise our bodies will break down the sugar in muscle protein in order to help us perform.
Now I can make some more informed choices in the dining hall! The students appreciated the review and called out the answers enthusiastically, before settling down to take their quiz — the last thing between them and the weekend!
September 27, 2018
What is a robot? A good question to consider upon entering a Robotics class, and that is just what the students did to start off their semester. A brief survey of those gathered in the Robotics Lab informed me that robots are machines that can work autonomously.
I learned from Matt Costantino '20 and Owen Borek '19 that the first iterations of bomb-defusing robots weren't robots in the truest sense because they were controlled remotely by humans. The boys asserted that robots can sense, think, act and communicate on their own. They relayed this while huddled over their own creation, affixing a new sensory mechanism to its underbelly.
Mr. Hesse paused the class to teach them about While Loops, a coding feature that incorporates a control statement that allows the robot to repeat or skip a part of the program. This was important to the students' work, because in coding the robot to make its way through a maze, they were replacing the time factor with a distance-sensing factor. This allowed for the fact that robots might travel different distances in a set amount of time, but that if you code them to sense the distance they have traveled, then they can navigate a course with greater accuracy and consistency.
Using the While Loop, the code will prompt the robot to keep going back to test the condition until it's no longer true, then it will skip it. It asks the robot, "are we there yet?" and if so, then it can exit the While Loop and continue. I was impressed by the emergent fluency of the students using code-curly braces and everything in between!
September 18, 2018
This morning, I walked to school with my advisee, David Tan '20, who shared with me that he was excited to be working on an unconventional piece in Chamber Ensemble, titled "String Shredder," by Kevin Mixon. Fast-forward 15 minutes to when I had invited myself into the classroom to hear him play it! Enjoy the intro. from Mr. Griffith in the clip below.
The second piece they practiced was a Concerto for String Orchestra by Georg Philipp Telemann. It was fun to see new third-former Hugh Park in action (middle violin), since I teach him in history class, and this was an opportunity to witness another of his talents.
Riding the high of listening to live music before 8:30 a.m., I decided to journey on to the science wing to drop in on Chemistry with Mr. Lafond. I struck gold, literally. The fourth formers were trying their hand at alchemy, the practice of turning every day items into gold.
Using sodium chloride, vinegar and zinc, among other ingredients, the students experimented to see if they could turn copper pennies into treasure. It sure looked like they did, but hard to say...brass is shiny too! Timmy Kelleher '21 provided me with my very own golden penny to keep as a souvenir on my way out the door.
I concluded my morning in Madame Medved's French Second Level course, and found a seat between Anthony Burnett '19 and Emma Fleischman '21. The students were conversing about their families, and Anthony and Emma were kind enough to let me dust off my high school French skills and take a turn!
September 13, 2018
Today was class trip day, and I enjoyed my time ushering a lively bunch of third-form students through different challenges set up by Project Adventure. The footage you see below shows the students as they set their brains to the task of memorization and deduction, making their way through a checkerboard as a team. For every wrong square they stepped into, trying to make it from one end to the other, a buzzer sounded and they had to go back to square one (literally!). The students then needed to recall their former path without error, ultimately selecting a new square in an effort to progress. It was slow-going but their teamwork and determination to complete the task were impressive!
Other challenges included moving the whole team through a giant jumprope based on numeric sequence puzzles, setting a record time for moving a hula hoop around a circle while holding the hands of the people next to you, and organizing themselves in order — silently — based on different prompts such as birth date and shoe size. It proved fun, and a great opportunity for bonding!
September 11, 2018
This morning I visited Mr. Wyatt's Pre-Modern World History elective, Journeying the Silk Roads. The third-form students were engaged in primary document analysis, comparing and contrasting two Harappan seals featuring human and animal imagery, in addition to indecipherable script. Mr. Wyatt made the study of the seals relevant to today's world by asking the students to consider modern day logos. What weight does brand recognition play in decision making, and therefore what impact does branding have on commerce and culture? The students were quick to make connections and envision what a Harappan marketplace would have been like, thousands of years ago!
September 6, 2018
School is underway and the Deans' Den Blog is back! To kick things off, a quick glimpse into 24 hours at Brooks during our first week: I had my first sixth-form Self in Community and third-form Uncovering Ancient Africa classes, led an academic orientation of our new students, enjoyed our first Chace House dormitory meeting, took a walk around the fields for morning practices, and visited Dr. Carabatsos's Physics class!
The primary purpose of this blog is to provide insight into the daily life of a student at Brooks School, so I drop in casually to classes, club meetings, extracurriculars etc. to witness their engagement firsthand. It has proven a fun and rewarding experience to celebrate the learning that is happening across campus.
Today I will spotlight Physics! On day one, the students were participating in an "Escape the Room" activity that had them problem solving, but also team building and orienting themselves in the classroom and the curriculum. The students had to figure out how to organize themselves based on a card they were assigned from a traditional deck.
Then, they were tasked with identifying a pattern on a cube covered in names and numbers that would help them to find the code to unlock a padlocked pencil case. The case contained a physics-based problem whose answer was a clue leading them to their teacher's office (so they know where to go for extra help!). There they found a key, to open a toolbox, that contained a pencil they had to balance on their fingertips. The students had a blast, and it certainly proved to be a memorable first day! Cool idea, Dr. C!
May 9, 2018
This morning, I popped into Mrs. Graham's Advanced 2D Design class, where the students are working on individual projects using a variety of mediums. I asked the class who was most excited about his or her own work, and the hand of Kailey O'Neill '19 shot right up! Kailey shared that she has a particular interest in Pop Art, and that she began to draw images inspired by artist Roy Lichtenstein starting this past summer. Kailey is in her third week of creating an image of a hand spraying spray-paint, using acrylic paint on both large and small canvasses. She drew the outlines on the large canvas free-hand, and Mrs. Graham has been helping her get the proportions and angles correct.
Other artists in the class include Anicia Depina '19, who is drawing, painting and collaging fashion plates on wood, inspired by her study of United States history (eg. Flappers from the Roaring Twenties), and Jackie Lappin '19, who is painting images in oil on wood inspired by artist Kindah Khalidy.
May 5, 2018
Today in my Making of the Muslim World elective, we welcomed Ms. Perkins to speak about her experience traveling in Afghanistan — specifically, about what it felt like to be a western white woman in a society where burqas are worn by Afghan women while outside their homes. She shared that the Afghan women wear them in part for safety, so they may be indistinguishable from one another and not draw attention to themselves. Her host family purchased one for her to wear in public, and also helped her to adjust her gait to not seem so obviously "American." Pictured here is Ms. Perkins and Tanay Kommareddi '21 wearing the burqa, followed by an image of Omolade Mebude '21, whose vision felt particularly challenged by the burqa!
April 19, 2018
This afternoon I participated in a simulation in Mr. Wyatt's history class Journeying the Silk Roads, which is a third form Pre-Modern World History elective. I was assigned the role of a Viking merchant, and tasked with trading the enslaved persons under my charge in exchange for commodities before traveling to Saray. Other cities included Mali, Morocco, Rome, Venice, Damascus, Delhi and Khanbalik.
Everyone had a different role to play, whether John of Montecorvino or Kublai Khan or Pope Innocent IV, and a different objective to accomplish. We were permitted to trade with the marketplace or fellow travelers, and could engage in subterfuge or espionage if wishing to best our opponents in the game. Stakes were high, with extra credit on the line, and the students were very engaged in trading their treasure, technology and teachings across continents!
April 16, 2018
I was delighted to have been invited to student presentations in Mr. Smith's Advanced Pre-Calculus class this afternoon on the subject of sinusoids, which are a graph of the continuous waves that represent the function sine.
I sat in on Jack Murphy '19 present on the moon orbiting the sun, and Amanda Monahan '19 on the sounds waves produced by two complimentary cello notes, C and G. The latter included a demonstration by Amanda on the cello, which she plays in the Chamber Ensemble at Brooks. It was a master class in mathematical thinking — the students described both their process and their data, helping those present to understand how they arrived at their findings.
April 2, 2018
This morning I visited Mr. Benson's English III class as they began discussing the novel Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. The first part, entitled "The Hearth and the Salamander," conjured up recent recollections of a four-day power outage and memories made around a fire, which the class then paired with a scientific analysis of salamanders (namely their ability to breathe underwater and traverse upstream).
The students considered why the two ended up in a title together. Mr. Benson shared that many believe that salamanders possess mythical qualities and are impervious to fire. From my brief audience to a read-aloud, it would seem that the protagonist starts out as a confident man, comfortable in his powers of destruction by way of fire ... but I am guessing that does not continue. I look forward to engaging these fifth-formers in follow-up conversation when I see them next!
March 1, 2018
I visited Advanced Rock Band today and found the group practicing for their WinterFest performance, slated for Saturday night. When I arrived, the students were finishing a song called "Real Love Baby," in which each student was playing an instrument (or singing vocals) outside his or her comfort zone. I wouldn't have known that had it not been pointed out to me — they did great! I love that the students have embraced growth mindset and are picking up new instruments.
At one point, a couple of songs later, Mr. Keller remarked to the kids that they had done a good job of playing through a mistake (I think they repeated a chorus), and said that was always important to do in rock band — just keep playing. I can tell you it worked, because again, I didn't even notice! Please enjoy the song featured in the video, titled "Human" by Rag'n'Bone Man, featuring Sally Jong '18 on lead vocals.
February 23, 2018
As you sit reading this blog post, your bone marrow is making tens of millions of red blood cells. Whoah! It had been some time since I last stopped to think about what was happening in my bones, or moving through my veins. Today, in Honors Anatomy & Physiology, students learned about red and white blood cells: where and how they are made, the composition of the cells and what they look like, their purpose and lifespan, and how it affects us humans day to day. One particularly memorable moment had Mrs. Hajdukiewicz exploring an old wives' tale that helps to identify those who are iron deficient by rubbing the edge of a nickel alongside someone's cheek. If a dark grey line appears, that indicates the possibility of anemia. One grey line later down my cheek ... and let's just say that thanks to this class visit, I will be increasing my iron intake!
February 16, 2018
I highly recommend starting your day with your own personal classical music concert. As I sat back and let the sonorous hums of cello and lyrical musings of violin wash over me, I thought that I might make a point of visiting Chamber Ensemble every Friday during first period!
The students were practicing Felix Mendelssohn's "Sinfonia II D-Dur," which was written during the Romantic Period for string quartet, though string ensembles often play it. The composition has three movements, and the students were focusing on the first, allegro. Mr. Griffith offered many thoughtful points for improvement throughout that demonstrated his expert ear. Whether it was instructing his musicians not to double the rhythm, or to watch being under pitch or too sharp, or to shorten the separation seconds, his advice was welcomed and adjustments were made. I have never sat in a class where a comment about a "rhythmic kerfuffle" was made, until today! I hope you enjoy listening to Jeff, Andrew, David, Clara, Janelle and Amanda.
February 9, 2018
This afternoon I joined in a Fiction Writing workshop where sixth form student Jackie Desautels showcased her work to a very engaged peer group. Mr. Charpentier introduced the format for the exercise, which first had the students read the short story quietly to themselves and mark up the copy in anticipation of a class discussion. They were directed to differentiate amongst the small (punctuation), medium (wording), and large (big picture/structure/plot).
Next, Jackie was called upon to read a portion of the piece aloud. Afterwards, she was encouraged to listen to the conversation that ensued, but discouraged from participating while her peers postulated about character profiles and plot line. Once this came to a natural conclusion, Jackie was given the floor to both ask and answer questions. As a full participant in the process, I found the experience stimulating and enjoyed the feeling of teamwork in helping Jackie to improve her story. I learned these four tips for writing effective short fiction:
1. Choose a subject that is not small or trivial.
2. The essence of the story exists as much in the reader's mind as on the page.
3. Make it memorable! Move the reader intellectually and emotionally.
4. Strive for depth, clarity and human significance.
Mr. Charpentier shared that writing workshops can be addictive for the author. I would imagine this to be true, just based off my experience as a peer editor. Same place, same time, next week? See you then, seniors!
February 5, 2018
I sidled up to my JV basketball player, third-form student Katherine Barenboim, in Mrs. Heinze's Geometry class first period. The students were working quietly and diligently on proportional segments, and so as not to disturb them further, I jumped across the hall to Dusty Richard's Discrete Math class.
I found a seat next to sixth-form student Pat McCoy and found myself in the midst of a lesson on explicit formula (Cn=2n) and recurrence relation. The students were exploring the relationship between a left-hand column of numbers title "n" and a right-hand column titled "Cn". They were challenged with describing the right in terms of the left, and to remember that any term is defined in terms of the one that came before it.
Their discussion progressed to determining that the recurrence relation is true for all n. This was referred to as inductive proof, which assumes the extension of the pattern continues. Dusty used the example of a row of dominoes knocking over to illustrate this concept.
Before departing, I inquired as to the application of their topic of study. Dusty shared that if there were a group of 50+ representatives in the House, one could use the explicit formula to figure out the number of coalitions that could be formed amongst them. Perhaps, in turn, one could estimate the time it would take to get a bill passed. A useful projection these days, no doubt!
January 29, 2018Today I stepped into both French Third Level with Madame Sinnott and Spanish Third Level Honors with Profe Neissa.
The French class was learning the "plus que parfait", or pluperfect, tense.
For example, "J'avais mange," means "I had eaten," which would be useful if one wished to explain: "By the time you had called, I had already eaten."In Spanish, the class was working through their comprehension of a story titled Casa tomada, by Argentine author Julio Cortazar.
I was able to catch Profe describing the international influence on Buenos Aires, and he brought up an image of the Obelisco and likened it to the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
He also pointed out the urban planning of the main thoroughfare to be similar to the Champs-Elysees and the facades of the apartment buildings to be reminiscent of French architecture as well.
I also learned that in Argentina, the President lives at the Casa Rosada, or Red House, much like the American President lives in the White House!
January 18, 2018
I love Winter Term. Today my class, Six Feet Under: The Art, Science and Business of Death, traveled together to the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in the South End of Boston. There we met with Dr. Mindy Hull, who spoke to us about her work as a premier forensic pathologist. She also enthusiastically conveyed her dedication to living life to the fullest, since she is engaged in a profession that reminds her daily of her own mortality. Following her presentation, we toured the facility, which included a morgue and an opportunity to watch autopsies underway. The students were well prepared after a few weeks of studying death and dying from all angles, and after observing closely and asking thoughtful questions, did well to process their experiences. We rode the bus back to brooks with the Genealogy and Bliss Out classes, who filled us in on their research at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and visit to a residential meditation retreat center, respectively. I was struck by the intersection of our three topics, and appreciative of our students' opportunities to be out in the world experiencing their subjects of study in context. Way cool.
December 7, 2017
Before heading into exam period, my third form Uncovering Ancient Africa Pre-Modern World History elective took a trip to the Great Pyramids at Giza with the help of Mr. Dobbins and his virtuality reality in-classroom set up. It was fun for the kids to take a tour of the historic site, and get a sense of the scale of the pyramids and a feel for the surrounding environment. In this clip you can see Arooj Kamran kindly tolerate my questions over the headset narration of her tour guide!
december 4, 2017
Today I found myself drawn into another Honors Biology class, this one taught by Mrs. Clay. I sat down at a table with fifth formers Amolina Bhat, Grace Handy and Martin Li. The students were equipped with cuvettes of algae beads floating in indicator fluid, aluminum foil and colorimeters. The object of the lab was to observe the differences between photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Both processes involve oxygen, water, glucose and carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis, using light, helps to produce glucose, whereas cellular respiration, in the absence of light, breaks down its glucose. The breakdown releases carbon dioxide which makes for an acidic environment. Mrs. Clay asked the students to offer their hypotheses before creating a continuous data set (taking observations every five minutes), and to consider controlled variables, such as distance of the cuvettes from the light source. A powerful reminder as to the power of light (or its absence) as we head toward the Solstice!
NOVEMBER 29, 2017
This morning I sat down between Tianshu Wang and Nick Fulgione in Mr. Graham's English III class. The students have been reading The Great Gatsby, but are also analyzing visual text provided by the show Stranger Things. The class was their first back from Thanksgiving break, and they considered what they had watched in the interim. The class discussed the Upside-Down World, and used it as an opportunity to appreciate the difference between metaphor (a word, phrase or image to to represent an idea) versus allegory (using a whole narrative to represent an idea, often a "hidden meaning"). The discussion transitioned from being teacher-led to student-led, and the kids did well to challenge one another's thinking on a variety of topics. And my thinking, too!
November 13, 2017
Today I ducked into Honors Biology with Mr. Davis. The students were working in small groups to diagram both Light Reaction and the Calvin Cycle. Kailey O'Neill and Finn Maitland explained explained how in the light reactions, light is used to create ATP and NADPH. ATP and NADPH provide energy and electrons, respectively, for the Calvin Cycle. Amanda Monahan then followed up to educate me on how the Calvin Cycle converts carbon dioxide into sugar. Meanwhile, in another small group, Mr. Davis asked the students to get on their feet so that he could better guide them through an understanding of (his words!): "the facilitated diffusion of H+ through ATP Synthase and how the flow of H+ allows for ATP to be created." I would imagine that the visual he provided will stick in their memories far better than a textbook explanation!
November 6, 2017
I just returned from AP Music Theory, where today they are reviewing figured bass, which is a traditional way of noting chords. I was transported back in time to my youth, years filled with the classical music listening sessions of my parents. Turns out those J.S. Bach harpsichord concertos served me well today in class, as they helped me to envision the complexity of what Mrs. Keller was teaching! I learned that our school organist Mr. Humphreville can read and play figured bass, but that most musicians versed in musical theory now use the Nashville System. The latter uses numbers, as opposed to the Roman numerals of the former, and is more simple in application.
October 27, 2017
This afternoon I sat in on English I with Mr. Haile. The students were discussing Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" in a Harkness format. Biblical inferences, the newness of bright, fluorescent green-gold leaves emerging during a New England spring, and the fleeting nature of youth were all topics of conversation. The class also referenced the concept of an iceberg- what they see on the surface, versus the meaning that is underneath. They questioned what the poem is really about- both literally and figuratively. It was neat to see a few of my own history students in a different classroom environment using the same conversational etiquette to communicate their ideas with one another.
OCTOBER 24, 2017
Today in physics class, Ms. Rooney led the students through a review of Newton's second Law of Motion: the relationship between force, mass and acceleration. (F=ma). They discussed the difference between "directly proportional" and "inversely proportional", and then broke out to complete a lab on mechanical equilibrium. As it turns out, I was not the only adult visitor to the class, as Parents' Weekend is underway, and so I spied some moms and dads sitting front and center!
OCTOBER 16, 2017
I have no Spanish skills. I was a French student in high school, and though I have thought often about it, I have yet to commit to Rosetta Stone or Duolingo. So naturally, I thought the best class for me to visit would be AP Spanish Language! Assuming I would be adrift, I was pleasantly surprised to feel instead, immersed. The students sat around the circle of tables and Senora Miller opened the class with a topic of conversation: stress. As most of the students present were seniors, there was much to discuss with the college process looming! I was able to follow along, and loved the supportive atmosphere as each student jumped in to participate. Next, in preparation for the AP, they transitioned to a cultural comparison between Argentinean and British perspectives on the Falklands War. I have taught an elective on Latin America, so it was cool to hear history I was familiar with being discussed in Spanish!
October 9, 2017
This morning I dropped in on three of my former students in Modern World History: Isabela Miller '20, Andrew Moon '20 and David Tan '20. Ms. Nasser was at the helm, guiding them through the preliminary stages of a research paper assignment.
The students are working to disprove the misconceptions that Africa was a "dark continent" populated by people who were "half-devil, half child," and that instead it was a place of impressive, civilized empires. This syncs up nicely with the study of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in English II.
Today in history class, the students were working on categorizing their research into Cultural, Political and Economic groupings. They reviewed the Complex-Split thesis formula, moving beyond their previous study of Simple, and then Complex, thesis statements. Nasser urged them not to be "#basic", but to engage in critical analysis substantiated by sound evidence. As a history teacher, it is incredibly rewarding to see my colleagues be passionate about the departmental writing curriculum, and to see the kids developing their skill set so expertly!
October 2, 2017
This morning I dropped in on Dr. Davies English I class, and sat next to third formers Aria Uva and Austin Mermans. They were kind to include me in their discussion about sentence fragments, which they had identified and improved upon as a part of their homework. Dr. Davies then led the students through a lesson on subordinating conjunctions, which are parts of speech I use every day but would not have been able to identify by name until this morning! It brought me right back to the days of Schoolhouse Rock!
september 26, 2017
Tonight when I came back down to the office to finish some work, I happened upon the Women in Engineering club programming a drone! Totally cool. Headed up by fifth former Louisa Rose, the group of ladies gets together to talk math and science, and provide mutual support as they consider future scholastic pursuits in the STEM fields.
September 22, 2017
This morning, I accompanied my third form advisee, Anya Sanchorawala, to Intro 3-D Studio Art taught by Mrs. McLoughlin. The students are creating non-figurative, low-relief pieces featuring a number of natural materials like shells and driftwood. I learned that "relief" is a sculptural technique that refers to the dimension of the piece, originating off of a flat background. The class engaged in a critique of their unfinished pieces. Mrs. McLoughlin encouraged the students to look objectively at their work, holding it four different ways for them to take mental snapshots, and to squint at it so they don't get lost in the details. She talked about how sometimes your "doing" puts you ahead of experiencing the work, and that we need to make sure our hands don't get too busy before we can feel what we need to feel to gain perspective and direction.
During the critique of Molly Madigan's piece, Jami O'Shea and Brianna O'Neill could be heard discussing that when turned a certain way, the central element of her artwork appeared to be a person. Upon hearing this, Mrs. McLoughlin remarked that this is the challenge of non-figurative work; we humans search for meaning. We want an explanation to create a feeling of security. She said this is aligned with the study of history, or science, but not art. It reminded me of when we look up at the clouds, and ask children what they see. I am now looking forward to discussing clouds as non-figurative forms with my four year old, to try on my new perspective!
September 18, 2017
I popped into Honors Chemistry this morning with fourth form student Joel Moya, whom I had the pleasure of teaching last year. It's always fun to see your former student in a different context! The students got to work right away with a "Do Now" that Mr. Moccia posted on the board for them. The topic of the day was how to calculate density, built off of a demonstration from last class involving pennies, water and graduated cylinders. I learned that when reading a graduated cylinder, it's important to measure where the bottom of the meniscus lies. Today, Mr. Moccia poured eight pennies into a graduated cylinder. The difference in the volume of water before and after was 3.5 ml. Last class, they determined that a penny has a mass of 2.51 grams. So to calculate density, they divided the mass (2.51 g) by volume (3.5 ml divided by 8 pennies). I think I got that right!
September 15, 2017
Math. If only I had been educated on Growth Mindset when I was in high school, I might have adopted a different outlook on the challenges that Algebra 2 and Trigonometry presented for me. But, now that I know brain science has debunked the notion that we are genetically predisposed to be innately "good" or "bad" in a subject, I believe that I, too, can learn math. And today, I did!
I shadowed two of my sixth-form advisees, Nalia and Emma, to their Calculus class with Ms. Mattison second period. The class was reviewing the algebraic concepts of limits and continuities.
Students demonstrated an ability to graph linear functions, which are always continuous, and then we learned about "jumps" and "holes," or piecewise functions, that are removable discontinuities. I learned some new terms, like "asymptote," which is a graph that has a line that is undefined going towards infinity.
I also learned WHY someone would find this skill set useful, and HOW they would use it in their career. Ms. Mattison expertly explained to the class how civil engineers need an understanding of limits and continuities to calculate where state borders meet each other (jump) or how a bridge spans two sides of a river (hole). This will change the way I see the world as I navigate around New England and beyond!
September 14, 2017
Today was class trip day! l appreciate the opportunity to better know our newest students, so I chose to participate in Project Adventure with the third form. The students rotated through different stations providing team building challenges. My station asked students to have every team member stand on a tarp, then turn the tarp over and have everyone stand on the flip side of it, without so much as touching the grass underneath them. I enjoyed being a witness to emergent leadership and cooperative strategizing. Communication skills and collaboration were key! If a team was able to complete the exercise, their next challenge asked them to create the longest line possible using only the resources they had with them. Take a look at these videos to see how they did!
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2017
What a fun and productive first week back at Brooks! Classes got underway on Wednesday, and it was terrific to have our classroom buildings come alive! While exiting the Deans' Den this morning, I stumbled across Mr. Wyatt's first level Chinese class traveling the halls working on their cultural competence. Here they are practicing their salutations, with a warm two-handed handshake. I love to see the kids up and about and practicing their new skills. Ni hao! Zaijian!
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2017
What type of teacher would I be if I didn't start with my own class! Here are twelve bright and shiny first-year students, ready to kick off the fall semester of Uncovering Ancient Africa! UAA is one among eight electives that comprise our third form Pre-Modern World History curriculum, which is built on a skills framework. These students are beginning by building an understanding of the role of point of view in history, and examining the lenses through which they will learn. I am excited for a great year with this spirited bunch!