Climate Change and Infrared Thermometer Experiment

Placing their hands on the carpet to show their body heat

Molly taught an in depth lesson about climate change this past week at McKay. The first step was to get the kids thinking about the topic in a creative way. Molly brought a tool to do just that. One of the hinge components of her lesson is the relationship of heat and light. We can see light but we can’t really see heat. With the help of her thermal camera, she showed the kids that heat isn’t just some abstract thing that makes you want to swim in the summer! With the visual aid, they were better able to grasp the relationship between light entering the atmosphere and heat being trapped by it.

Wowed by how hot the carpet was from just their hands!

The kids have a good knowledge base (as evidenced by Jeopardy! the week before) because we incorporate climate change in a lot of our lessons but Friday was an entire class period dedicated to it. I love Molly’s teaching style because she allows for a lot of group and partner discussion after a main section, allowing the kids to see if their inklings are headed in the right direction. She discussed the nuanced dynamic of carbon dioxide and the atmosphere. The kids had a hard time at first because they had to realize that CO2 isn’t inherently detrimental. In fact, they learned we need it, and that it’s the over saturation of CO2 that causes problems. We want the right balance between being too cold with too little atmospheric blanket and too much blanket and creating a hot, Venus-like planet.

Making a model explaining carbon dioxide’s role in climate change

After the explanation of the greenhouse effect, the kids drew models demonstrating some sort of climate change from something they were familiar with. Most chose car and factory emissions as a leading cause, while others got creative with their favorite characters cutting down trees and reducing the number of natural carbon sinks available to sequester the carbon already in circulation.

Very Dr. Seuss-like
Simple, yet effective

The kids found this topic kind of scary, and it is. But in one of the group discussions an interesting question came up: What can we do as kids to stop the Earth from getting too hot for humans? I let the other children in the group brainstorm ideas and one quickly answered with, “We can start a protest saying plant more trees.” Not all hope is lost.



Team MCK. The winners of Jeopardy! in 4th grade posing with their candy eggs

McKay and MLCS had the chance to put their knowledge to the test in a game of Jeopardy!. All the organization heads got together to come up with questions covering what we’ve learned since the beginning of the year. Categories included: harbor science, the harbor islands, composting, planting, and climate change. Each child or group of children had 30 seconds to come up with the correct response on their dry-erase boards and if no correct response was given the other teams got a chance to steal. This part of the game had everybody hanging on to every question!

They never quite got that they didn’t need to raise their hands when they had control of the board
It’s not cheating! Alex D gave them permission to use their booklets
Looking smug because he knew the answer

At McKay, both Alex’s got to act as their namesake, Alex Trebek, which the kids could not get enough of. I could not say I was surprised by how much the children had retained. They knew all the harbor islands, what worms we used in compost, could explain the greenhouse effect, and knew what they could do in their everyday life to lessen climate change. No points were deducted for not answering in the form of a question. Every team with points on the board received a dum-dum.


McKay Mural Inspiration

Thought it would be fun to portray winter on the side of the school

Climate Nature at McKay was especially art focused this past week as we brainstormed ideas for the exciting sea walls project of murals. One of the favorite themes we tossed around was the Belle Isle Marsh. The kids thought it would be fun to incorporate something unique to East Boston in the mural that could potentially go on the side of their school.

Talking about all the different species in the marsh

Kannan prepared a slide show to jog their memories on all the animals that live there. The coyote pup gets a bunch of awes and squeals every time. A lot of the pictures from the slideshow were taken by Sean Riley of the Belle Isle Marsh.

Drawing the ocean before there was pollution
The finished product!
Fielding questions about their mural proposal

The project should start in late summer and hopefully we will see some of these wonderful ideas included in the mural!


Students Speak Out to Protect the Belle Isle Marsh

The Climate Nature team, along with the children over at the Donald McKay School, learned about the negative effects of climate change. To bring local context, we detailed its effects on something our neighborhood holds very dear, The Belle Isle Marsh. After learning about all the animals that depend on and live in the marsh, as well as the part the marsh plays as a storm buffer, the kids were excited to write their representatives and mayor to exercise their efficacy in local government. Here’s what some of them had to say!

Wetlands DO rock!
The wetlands protect more than just animals, but everything around it as well!
We need to fight climate change now more than ever!
: )
Student Sophia expands on her reasons to protect the Belle Isle Marsh.
Jamie wanted to be sincere and genuine in his writing to Mayor Walsh.

Boat Race Day!

So excited to have made it all the way to the end!

NATURE over at the McKay school took a day to talk about propulsion. In this case, Alex D focused on how we use the wind as a source of clean energy and why we prefer it in some cases to the alternatives. The kids were enthusiastic to talk about the wind again after our lesson a few weeks back on wind turbines.

Securing the mast to their new vessel

After the lesson, we asked the kids to use a few items to create a boat designed to make it to the end of the “canal”. The catch is that they were only allowed to propel the boat by blowing on it or using a rubber band. All the kids took the cue from the sailboats they’re so fond of and decided to make sails out of the paper and popsicle sticks.

He had no clue he was gluing up a winner
These two figured bigger was better when it came to their sail

After twenty or so minutes trying to create something that would hopefully float, the kids got ready to launch. Alex set up shop next to the canal with a stop watch to referee the race.

Ready to launch!
Very light design. Practically flew down the canal.

At the end of the second grade we ended in a two way tie. Both teams finished in an impressive 13 seconds.

Your joint winners! A little soggy but still seaworthy.

Growing Green edibles and Harvesting Green energy

This past week our program saw the kids over at MLCS undertake a planting project. We readied the growing table for two types of seeds. After guessing what the seeds were, the kids then drew how they thought the entire plant looked both above and below ground. There were some cute renderings of the radish and some surprising takes on how mustard looks before it’s “the yellow stuff”.

They were excited to be the only three present because they each got 3 rows
Sylvia won the right to seed first because her radish was growing underground. Alia almost tricked me after she went back and drew in some dirt.

In a few weeks, we hope to have some microgreens after I go back and set up the grow light from Eastie Farm.

Julianna and her wind turbine with a little baby turbine on the way

At Donald McKay, Magdalena and myself taught a lesson on renewable energy sources. We focused in on wind turbines, watching a few videos after we had a preliminary discussion on how we think the wind works. Being a coastal neighborhood, the kids were excited to learn that wind turbines can exist in the water as well as on land.

Homemade turbine. A cork, paper clips, cardboard, rubber bands, motor, and battery.

In the older classrooms we had the students make the blades of the turbine and test out how the size and shape affected air flow.

They figured out that if the blades are parallel to the ground, they can feel more air on the top and bottom. Whereas if they face perpendicular to the ground, they felt more air on the side pushing outward.
Longer blades meant a slower rotation. After the first few made long blades everybody switched to short to see how fast it could spin.

Making Turtles and Painting Clams

Nature at both Maverick Landing and Donald McKay this past week focused on sea-life. The kids love to talk about sea turtles and share what knowledge they have from our previous lessons. Instead of lecturing about how harmful plastics can be to the turtles, we asked the kids to remember what we’ve talked about and to include those thoughts on notecards they would then attach to turtles they made out of sugarcane plates. There was talk of plastic straws, light pollution, and plastic bags left on the beach. All these thoughts were pinned to the turtles as “wishes” to help protect the turtles now and in the future. Some may sound like commands but they assured me they were wishes.

Hiba ties her wishes to her brand-spankin’ new turtle. She vowed on a few of hers and taught the other kids what the word meant
Ali and Rayan finish gluing scrap paper on the giant turtle that Heather repurposed from a package she received. Pretty soon they’ll hit it with some color!
All the baby turtles on the back of the mama

We made turtles with the second graders over at McKay later in the week. They also surprised me with how much information they can remember about one animal.

The fourth and fifth graders got a little different experience. Heather has been collecting all kinds of shells from her trips to the beach over the past summer. The fifth graders got a chance to pore through the collection and pick their share of shells to fashion a mobile.

A nice gift from driftwood, shells, and a little fishing line.

The fourth graders had a ball painting surf clam shells. Lots of learning going on but also it was beautiful to see the kids engaged with each other, offering to share paints, shells, and in the case of the fifth graders, offering to help each other tie knots when it was too awkward to do themselves.

On their third shells!
Table full of shells!

The kids were sad to learn that this was the last Nature before the break. We’ll be back to learn more in the new year. Can’t wait to hear how all the gifts were received.


Aquarium Visits Donald McKay (11/15) and Reading Charts at Maverick Landing (11/20)

The New England Aquarium visited Donald McKay a few Fridays ago to teach the children about different marine habitats around Boston. To illustrate the variations in both habitat, and subsequently, the marine life within each, they brought touch tanks!

Following the one-finger touch rule as he feels the shell of a hermit crab
The water was ice cold so the animals wouldn’t be shocked by the change in indoor vs outdoor temperature. He wanted a break because his hand was cold but couldn’t stop touching the crab!
So very interested to learn that the arms of the starfish were used to actually move the animal.

Learning that these animals existed around Boston, whether at the Belle Isle Marsh or Constitution Beach, was very exciting! It also drove home how important it is to keep habitats like the Belle Isle Marsh in tact so that these animals won’t become displaced as the habitats shift. The aquarium also set up an overfishing activity using straws and various snacks, wherein the children were paired and would use the straw to “fish” snacks from the water (a plate) to their boat (a bowl) for a season (15 seconds). Afterwards the manager, the child who didn’t fish that season, would take stock of the water and for every two of each snack left, they’d receive one more of that snack. It was the manager’s job to ensure that overfishing was carefully watched so as to not run out of any one snack after each season.

The next Wednesday, the children at Maverick Landing Community Services learned about sailing and charts thanks to the lesson organized by Alex DeFronzo of the Piers Park Sailing Center. After locating East Boston on the chart and the importance of Boston’s location as a maritime hub, as its protected from high waves by the clusters of islands and peninsulas that provide calmer waters nearer to shore, the children made their own globes for their chance to win a hat from the Sailing Center.

Flaunting the globes that earned them new hats!
Maverick Landing

New England Aquarium! (11/13 NATURE Lesson)

This week’s lesson about sea turtles at the Maverick Landing Community Center went swimmingly! 

First, we took a look at a taxidermied hawksbill sea turtle: students even got to hold her and pass her around as they learned about how different species of sea turtle differ in the color and size of their shells. Then we watched a short documentary about sea turtle nesting, and watched baby sea turtles make their mad dash to the ocean just seconds after hatching! From that video, students learned the importance of keeping the lights off at night if you live near the ocean, since sea turtle hatchlings can become disoriented by them. Finally, we colored in a worksheet in order to learn how to identify different species of sea turtles… did you know that leatherback sea turtles can grow to weigh up to 1500 pounds?

To get moving, we ended the lesson with a fun spinoff of hide and seek, where we hid “turtle eggs” around the room and then tried to find them as quickly as we could. Maverick Landing Community Center is very passionate about the safety of sea turtles, so we loved learning so many new things about a species we care about so much! 

McKay Elementary

Bioblitz! (10/7 and 10/11 NATURE Lessons)

This week, students got connected with their local environment through a Bioblitz! What is a bioblitz? Great question! When we introduced the word, the students figured out that “bio-” means life and “blitz” means a fast, all-out effort. At Donald McKay, we tasked students to go out into their school’s garden and look for interesting foliage that sparked their excitement! At Maverick Landing, rain cancelled our plans to go outside, but the students engaged in a marine bioblitz, exploring shells and marine life. 

On Friday, students at Donald McKay had the opportunity to explore the school’s garden in depth. They got a close up look at flora and fauna of all sizes, from tiny aphids to enormous chard leaves. Garden treasures also included some tasty treats like ground cherries, mint leaves, and chives. NATURE teachers walked around the garden as kids ran up to us to show us the plant and bug life they found. 

One girl was excited to show us how she figured out how to open a spiky pod (safely) to find small black seeds inside. Another student figured out that leaves could be crushed up and used to make a green paint. When we brought the foliage back to the classroom to look at it more closely, one boy noticed that there were small aphids crawling around a particular leaf and passed it around so all his classmates could see.

While the students entered the garden without specific instructions or guidelines of what they would be learning, each student found something new that excited them! Instead of giving students answers, NATURE facilitators asked questions to help students figure out why some plants had spikes, some leaves had holes, and why some plants (flowers, chard, tomatoes) had bright colors while some had more dull colors. We facilitated the activity, but the learning was entirely student-guided.

While it rained on Wednesday night, students at our Maverick Landing Community Center location had a fun night indoors rotating through several fun marine biology themed stations. They explored the role that shells play in marine ecosystems by taking a look at the little creatures that live inside of them. At a different station, students made guesses about the relationships between different animals and discussed the concept of food webs.