Grants in Action

Sensory Pathways at Broadmeadow

The NEF funded two Sensory Pathways that were installed this month at Broadmeadow and they have already made a huge impact on the students and teachers, who were instantly mesmerized. These Sensory Pathways have given students opportunities to get their movement out.

The paths are located in the first-grade wing for the kindergarten, first and second graders to use, as well as on the ground level near the occupational therapy room. Each path is designed to change a child’s body position as he/she completes the course, focusing on academic visuals while moving the body in a specific order. By jumping, bouncing, bending, pushing, and breathing, students release their energy and sensory build-ups that impacts their ability to best utilize their brains.

Although teachers were initially worried about sending students to the paths independently, after a class lesson, they gave it a try. Teachers were pleasantly surprised at how responsible students were being when they asked to go on a sensory break. Broadmeadow families have enjoyed the videos shared by Principal Gaberman shared the videos in the school’s bulletin. Grant writer, Saundra Watson noted, “It has been amazing to see so many students reading the directions and following the movements and others following along by creating their own movements.”

Take a sneak peak at how Needham students are moving their bodies and putting the pathways to good use. Thank you to grant writer Saundra Watson for making this innovative grant come to life.

Rubik’s Cubes at Needham High School

The NHS Library is pleased to add 225 Rubik’s cubes to the collection this year thanks to a Fall 2018 grant from the Needham Education Foundation. This purchase was an instant hit with cubers and non-cubers alike as the Rubik’s Cube Club immediately set to creating the first mosaic. They chose to build the portrait of Caesar Chavez, solving each individual cube to a specific design and stacking the cubes together to form the final mosaic. In a few afternoons, their masterpiece was complete and displayed prominently in the library. This new piece of art sparked a number of discussions as students and staff realized how it had been created.
We have since created a number of smaller mosaics which were started by math teachers and completed by individual students visiting the library. Another exciting opportunity provided by these cubes is to design our own mosaic, fostering technology, art, and design skills in the process. This is one of the many ways in which this program can grow in coming years and connect to many different students. In addition to the opportunity to design and build mosaics, Rubik’s Cubes themselves can provide a fun avenue to explore mathematical concepts such as geometry, algorithms, factorals, and exponents. Teachers are welcome to check out a class set of cubes for hands-on learning opportunities, which is easy thanks to the 25-cube boxes designed and built in the Da Vinci Workshop. These boxes were designed not only to contain a class set of cubes, but also to display a small, finished mosaic or portion of a larger mosaic.
Grant writer Paige Rowse commented “It is incredible to see all the different people and departments involved in just this one grant! We look forward to seeing more students and staff explore this innovative opportunity.”

Talking Books

The “talking books” have been a big hit at Hillside! Students in K-5 have been enjoying the collection of 82 Vox books, which are hardcover books containing a small MP3 player on the inside cover. Simply pushing the play button allows students to listen to a high quality narration of their favorite stories. They require no batteries and can last up to four months without a charge.
Kindergarten and first grade teachers have checked these out to use as listening centers in the classroom. Newly enrolled ELL students have been enjoying them outside the library as well.

One exciting effect of the Vox books is that they ignite interest in the regular print collection. Students often want to check out the regular print copy of the book they have just listened to. The Vox books have expanded interest in new topics that students may otherwise have overlooked. The Vox books also increase student independence. Everyone who listens to a Vox book can fully access a text even if they are not yet reading. Students are able to comprehend and retell a story after listening to it.

Grant writer Elizabeth Hitron, Hillside School Librarian, said, “As a librarian, it has been so heartening to see students engage so deeply with a new material that does not involve a screen! High quality narration and high quality literature are so captivating for a young audience. I love when the students walk into the library and ask, “Can we listen to the talking books today?”

Fourth Grade Flexible Seating

The fourth grade team at Mitchell had experimented with flexible seating a little bit last year but wanted to really give students the opportunity to have more choice in their learning. We needed more seating and work area options for students. In addition to giving students choice, we also wanted to create a stronger sense of community within each classroom. Flexible seating requires students to share materials and work spaces. We were also thinking about modern work spaces and offices when choosing their materials. We thought that fourth grade would be a great time to implement flexible seating and are pleased that the NEF grant we received is allowing that to happen.
Currently, our students are loving the ability to have choice in their learning! Most students are able to appropriately use each of the workspace options. We are collaborating to help students adjust to this new way of learning. Students have also discovered that they may need a different space depending on the activity or lesson. For example, most students have realized that a tabletop surface works best for writing workshop. Flexible seating allows students to get up and move or move while sitting, so movement breaks are happening continuously throughout the day. We have also found that students are on task most of the time and are enjoying each other’s company and working together.
In the future, we would like to expand on the workspace and seating options in our classrooms. We would also love to share what we have done with other teachers, so that more students can have the opportunity to take on more ownership of their learning. 

Dr. Jill Walsh Presents to Parents at Pollard on Topic of Social Media

On Tuesday, September 11, Dr. Jill Walsh, BU Sociologist and expert on adolescent social media use, gave a talk to over 200 Needham parents, entitled “The Good, the Bad and the Confusing: Today’s Teen Technology Landscape. The talk, sponsored by both the NEF and the High Rock-Pollard PTC, was the first of a two-part series that Dr. Walsh is presenting to Needham parents. The Needham Times wrote an article summarizing some of Dr. Walsh’s takeaways regarding social media’s effects on academics and a few strategies for parents. Do you want even more great tips? Dr. Walsh will share more strategies parents can use at the next lecture Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Thrive in the Digital World on October 29 from 7-8:15pm at Pollard.

Dr. Walsh has also been working with Pollard teachers and students as part of a grant written by Needham parents Carolyn Guttilla and Martha Cohen Barrett and funded by the NEF, entitled “Improving Digital Communication: Helping Pollard Students Better Understand How Social Media Communication Can Be Misinterpreted.” In the parent lecture, Dr. Walsh shared a lot of important information about teen technology use and discussed how parents can be more aware of and involved in what their teens are doing online. The talk was very well received; many parents shared that Dr. Walsh gave them a new way of looking at the technology landscape and a “reframe” for talking to their children about it. Dr. Walsh’s second parent lecture will be held on October 29 and will address technology and mental health. For more information about Dr. Walsh, check out her website at Dr. Jill Walsh, a Boston University professor, is working with the Pollard Middle School to help students better navigate the world of social media.

Here is a copy of the slides used during Dr. Walsh’s presentation.

Archaeological Dig in Greece

Stephen Guerriero, a social studies teacher at High Rock, was awarded a grant from the NEF to participate in an archaeological dig in Phocis, Greece over the summer. He will incorporate much of what he learned into High Rock’s archaeology curriculum in the coming year.

He shared his experiences with the NEF:

“I am so happy to share with you some of my experiences that I had this summer as a participant and trench supervisor at the Kastrouli-Desfina Field School and Excavation.

The Kastrouli archaeological site consists of a large, terraced hilltop outside of the small village of Desfina in the region of Phocis, Greece. I arrived in Desfina, Greece at the beginning of July and stayed just about four weeks. The 2018 season’s main goal was to uncover areas of use around a large, exposed wall from the Late Mycenaean period.

I worked as a trench supervisor for one of the three trenches that we opened in Kastrouli. The days consisted of a 5:30 AM wake up, quick coffee, and then up to the dig site. Each morning, a shepherd walked his flock of goats by our site on their way to graze. Our terrace overlooked the entire valley below. The soil in Greece is dry, dusty, and hard-packed. My team worked to uncover several foundation walls, discovered pottery sherds dating from between the Late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age (1300 – 1000 BCE). We also discovered fragments of human remains and animal remains, as well as fire pits, plaster, and evidence of massive destruction. We stopped our digging for a “drone break” at 11:00 AM At this time, Ian Roy, the head of the Brandeis University MakerLab, would fly his high-powered drone overhead and photograph the entire site. Each day, his photogrammetry runs would generate hundreds of images and gigabytes of data. These images were used to generate both 3-D models of the site, and to put together time-lapse animations of each trench’s progress. The overhead images were especially important in analyzing the site and planning each day’s digging.

By 1:30 PM, we finished digging for the day because the summer sun in Greece is intense, and temperatures were often over 90ºF. After lunch, we washed, photographed, and “read” the pottery found that day. This means we were able to make preliminary judgments about the context, dating, and usage of the site based upon the pottery sherds we were finding. Later, we attended lectures and seminars from faculty members of Brandeis, Wesleyan, and the University of the Aegean. These included talks and workshops about the Bronze Age collapse, pottery reading, conservation, local History, advanced archaeological methods. We also traveled throughout the regions of Phocis and Boetia to see similar sites of occupation, visit museums, and have a guided tour throughout the famous archaeological park of Delphi, which includes the Sanctuary of Apollo, the home of the oracle.

My work has been to document my experiences for my students and colleagues, to bring back the latest in archaeological field methods and practices, and to see first-hand the newest technology in use. I’m so excited to share all of this with my students, especially the drone-based photogrammetry, 3-D imagery, 3-D printing of artifacts, and the use of GPS satellites. I know my kids will have a more dynamic, interactive, and richer learning experience because of the NEF’s support!”

Science Center’s StarLab Makes Debut at Let’s Build Event

Good things come to those who wait! The NEF was pleased to provide funding to the NPS Science Center to purchase a StarLab portable planetarium through a $15,000 grant in our 2015 large grant cycle. It took a while longer than anticipated, but the StarLab was up and running at last week’s 5th Annual Engineering Extravaganza put on by another former NEF grant recipient, Let’s Build, at Broadmeadow School.

During the event, three groups of approximately 24 eager children and parents crawled into the large black dome where day was transformed to night, and all of the stars were on display. The tour through our solar system was guided by grant writer Elise Morgan and other Science Center staff. Once all of the questions were exhausted, participants also got a peek at a second projection cylinder which showed all of the constellations floating across the night sky.

“The Science Center,” Morgan wrote in her grant request, “strives to … provide curriculum which educates, inspires and promotes deep and comprehensive scientific knowledge to support NPS students’ academic futures and by extension, the future of the world in which we live.” The StarLab will eventually be integrated into the curriculum in all elementary grades. Who knows how many future scientists it may inspire?

See coverage of the grant award on the Needham Channel.

Ukuleles at Eliot

Earlier this year, George Vallatini, music teacher at Eliot Elementary School, started implementing the use of ukuleles into his music classrooms. This all-grade-level program was created to provide a richer musical experience for every student at Eliot.

The grant request was for 30 soprano ukuleles and a coordinating music stand for storing them when not in use. The soprano ukuleles are the ideal size for children in grades K through 5.

“There are no string instruments like ukuleles and guitars for the elementary students to use. While the guitar is a difficult instrument for young children to play, the easier ukulele brings an entirely new way for our students to experience the music curriculum. Additionally, the current rise in the popularity of the ukulele brings a fresh and exciting dimension to the musical experience of our Eliot school students,” says Vallatini.

The students are using the ukuleles to accompany their singing, like the folk singers Joni Mitchell and Pete Seeger. They are using the instruments to learn about songs and melody and harmony, as well as rhythm and song structure. The students will also use the ukuleles to help them compose their own original music.

“The ukuleles allow me to teach music in a new and inspiring way,” says Vallatini. Traditionally, when the students are asked to sing, they sing either acapella or accompanied by the piano. By incorporating the ukulele into the existing curriculum, students accompany themselves. According to Vallatini, “This allows them to learn about harmony and accompaniment in a practical, hands-on way.”

The program was funded by a grant from the NEF’s Fall 2017 Small Grants cycle.

Click here to see an Eliot Kindergarten class using a few of the ukuleles.

Virtual Reality at Needham High School

Samantha Bookston, Technology Integration Specialist at Needham High School, was awarded a grant of $4,700 in the Fall of 2016 for virtual reality teaching equipment.  Here she tells us how this new technology has been used in classrooms to enhance learning across disciplines.

Many of us are new to VR. How exactly does it work?

Virtual reality is a computer-created scenario that mimics a real experience. Last year, the NEF awarded the high school a grant for a virtual reality cart, which includes 30 plastic (cleanable!) viewers, 13 cell phone devices, 1 teacher tablet, 1 router, 1 360 degree camera, and a cart. This allows teachers to easily use the cart for a classroom of students. 

Can you tell us about projects this equipment has been used for?

The cart has been widely used across multiple departments, with most teachers using the cart for Google Expeditions. During this type of lesson, a teacher will use the tablet to lead students on an experience related to what they are currently studying. For example, a psychology class is able to go on an expedition that explores different parts of the brain–where they are located within relation to one another, and what they look like up close as the brain is working. A social studies class went on an expedition to the trenches of World War I and were able to put themselves in the trench and look around, making observations on what it would have been like in this small area for a length of time. In this particular expedition, they were able to hear warfare sounds as well. Expeditions is a free app that comes with about 8 panoramic slides per expedition; on each of these slides is a 360 image (some include pictures and audio), text to give context to the image, and key things to point out.  

How is VR equipment better than, say, a tablet or Chromebook?

While students can use tablets, Chromebooks, or other online resources for making connections, the VR cart allows the students to experience and make their own observations because they are placed within the picture or video. The first time a classroom puts on the goggles, there are typically a lot of wows, oohs and aahs!

How have the students and teachers reacted to VR?

Teachers are really excited about the VR cart. It has been set up to be easily integrated in the classroom as an enhancement. Some teachers have gone a little farther and have done projects where the students create the virtual reality experience themselves. The students used the 360 camera to shoot a scenario for wellness class, and then they edited it to use as a teaching video for their classmates. A world language class studied different French-speaking countries and edited 360 images together with their voices to create cultural videos. They then used these videos to learn about different cities.  

As virtual reality is becoming more popular, we are excited to expose our students to it. They are making connections using multiple senses and are learning how this new technology and kind of experience can make an impact. 

NHS Experiences ‘One Day’ Author Panel

By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Reprinted from the Hometown Weekly, February 8, 2018

Have you ever finished a book that just left you so astounded and inspired to write your own novel?

It has certainly happened to some of the students at Needham High School.

For their half-day schedule on January 31, Needham High students participated in the “One Day” experience, with this year’s theme revolving around developing authentic characters. Who would have been better to ask about authentic characters than three accomplished authors from eastern Massachusetts? The students selected workshops that would be most beneficial to their growth as writers for the school-wide event. To advise the students by sharing their personal writing experiences, local authors Diana Renn, Marjan Kamali, and Tara Sullivan served on a panel in the library’s media center.

(Click here to continue reading …)