Keeping Warm with Blubber

In our continuing Life Science exploration, and as a segue to our unit on Endangered Species, we did a little experiment about keeping warm with fatty insulation!

First up: Pack a 5-gallon container with snow. Estimate how much water it will now hold (in addition to the snow). Then add water till it is 3/4 full with icy/snowy water. Our estimates ranged from 6-50 cups of water. The average was about 35 cups to an already packed bucket! Snow holds a lot of air!

Next we put one hand into a nitrile glove and immersed it in vegetable shortening (in a gallon zip-lock bag). We placed both hands, one bare and one immersed in a fatty later, into the ice water and reported how it felt three times: initially, after 30 seconds, and after one minute. There was much grimacing but no frostbite and the bare hands got very cold, red, tingly, burning, and stiff. The blubbery hands were cozy warm and comfortable.

That’s how polar bears, whales, seals, manatees, snow leopards, tigers, and many other animals keep warm!

A Fair to Remember!

Our Ancient Cultures Fair was a huge success! We had over a hundred student visitors and scores of adults come visit our celebration of Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures. There were games to play, number systems to learn, foods to sample, art to create and view. There was information about mountains, temples, calendars, gods, astronomy, hunting, record keeping, money, trade, cities, food, drink, religion, fishing, markets, gold, writing, gambling, warriors, empire, cities, and more!

Thanks to all our visitors who arrived with curiosity and open minds!

Hats off to the Fifth and Sixth Grade classes who hosted this amazing event! The Cultural Fair was the culmination of six weeks of hard work: reading, searching web sites, note taking, writing, preparations at home and in school, and then an enormous effort welcoming, entertaining, feeding, and informing visitors on the day of the event!  In preparation, each student wrote a written report, selected or created visual aids to accompany it, and then presented their findings formally to the other 5th/6th Grade classes.  The next day, we hosted the Cultural Fair for all the students in Grades Pre-K to 4 plus parents, staff, and the community! According to the knots tied on the quipu of our record keeper in the Incan Empire, we had 107 visitors to that site alone!

















A Day at the Museum!


We got a glimpse of two museums yesterday in preparation for the creation of our own interactive museum installations next week.
Thanks to Aaron, Ellen, Kendra, Sam and the Mount Holyoke College students who were our docents.  They all helped us see the artifacts and displays of the Skinner Museum and the Mount Holyoke Art Museum with fresh perspectives and gave us a chance to look behind the scenes at artifacts from South and Central America.  What a wonderful way to connect us with our study of Incan, Aztec, and Mayan culture!


Thanks also to the parents and guardians who joined us on the trip!  We could easily have stayed twice as long and never run out of things to see and experience.



Mae Tuck’s Trial

We held a mock trial last Friday for Mae Tuck, a character in Tuck Everlasting. It was fun to put on costumes and have a trial, but the issues we talked about were serious and the debate was lively! We wound up with a hung jury: 3 insisting on Mae’s innocence, 3 convinced of her guilt, and 9 convinced she was guilty of a lesser crime than the capital offense she was charged with.

What a class of performers!

Visit to the State House for the Electoral College Vote Dec. 19

Protests outside the State House December 19, 2017 prior to the Electoral Vote

In conjunction with our election study, I made a trip to the State House in Boston to witness the Electoral College’s historic vote. Although Donald Trump won the electoral vote overall, Massachusetts voted unanimously for Hillary Clinton, the winner of the popular vote and the first woman in history to win electoral votes in a presidential election. There were protests out front, but the ceremony within the State House was joyous, purposeful, and spirited. The Electors made speeches about how and why they were casting their votes and the atmosphere felt historic. Looking at the names painted  on the walls around the House Chambers reminded me of a time when Massachusetts lawmakers shaped the course of this young country as it revolted from England and charted a path away from tyranny.  It was an inspiring field trip!



I was also able to take a tour of the State House and found Leverett’s flag in the Hall of Flags!  Can you find it?

Life Science: Two Raptors Visited and We Dissected Owl Pellets!

Thanks, Julie Collier, for bringing in two raptors: a red tailed hawk and a screech owl!  What a treat for our class!  She gave us a copy of a drawing she had done of the screech owl to show its remarkable camouflage.  She’s a wonderful artist as well as a naturalist! Julie also brought in scores of Native American artifacts from across the United States as a way to help us launch our unit of study into the pre-colonial Americas.
This week we are dissecting barn owl pellets. Whoooo knows what we will discover within?!?

Mad science last week was to test the strength of egg shells.  Each group design held 8-10 textbooks of weight!  Even shells that have been cracked in half are more than strong enough to hold up the weight of a fully grown hen.  That’s useful adaptation!

We also tested the shells in a vinegar bath. Acid softened and weakened the shells. There is mounting evidence that rising acidity in the ocean may be having a similar effect on the shells of mollusks such as mussels.


Marvelous Magnets and the Hidden Forces that Surround Us

This week we went to Morse Hill where we used compasses to orient ourselves and to find hidden treasure!  We designed, built, and PADDLED our own original rafts. No one sank and all the boats proved to be seaworthy (or at least Lake Wyola worthy!).

But how do compasses work? What are these hidden forces that surround us?

We explored magnets and their amazing abilities today in Mad Science. Then we received the challenge:  Build your own compass…


dscn0080 dscn0079 dscn0078 dscn0077

dscn0076 dscn0075 dscn0074 dscn0073 dscn0072 dscn0071


Using magnets, needles, water, and things that float,  Fifth Graders built working compasses!

dscn0067 dscn0066dscn0058dscn0056

Scientists at work

Investigating and exploring living things…  What happens when you put freshly cut foods into a dark space and let them sit?  What might grow? How might different starting foods grow different things? What if we take away all light energy by putting the foods in the dark?  Just add water to find out!

dscn0016 dscn0015 dscn0014 dscn0013 dscn0012 dscn0011 dscn0010 dscn0009dscn0018

dscn0020 dscn0022 dscn0023 dscn0026

Fall, 2016

We’re back! The year is off to an explosive start with Is it Alive?!?! and Mad Science.  Two substances, both alike in size, in texture and in color, each the equal of the other.  Both dry and lifeless… could either hold the spark of life within its seemingly inert form? What does it mean to be alive?  How can we tell? What is the difference between living and non-living?

DSCN0003 DSCN0004 DSCN0007 DSCN0005 DSCN0008 DSCN0006

All living things:

Get energy

Use energy

Get rid of waste

React to change




Was either of the Mystery Substances alive?!?