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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.

Maverick Landing

Letter Writing to Preserve the Belle Isle Marsh! (NATURE Lesson 11/8)

This week, we also learned about the Belle Isle Marsh, which is located right here in East Boston! It’s Boston’s last remaining salt water marsh, home to many birds, fish, and other wildlife, and needs to be protected against continuing developments along the shore. We learned about different animals that call Belle Isle Marsh home, such as the coyote, long eared and short eared owls, snowy owl, sparrow, hummingbird, and crane. The unique characteristics of a saltwater marsh make Belle Isle extremely valuable- in addition to serving as a home for these animals, the marsh helps reduce the impact of storms, mediates temperature when it is very warm, and creates oxygen for the air. 

In order to communicate the need to protect Belle Isle, students wrote letters to local, state, and national government representatives such as Mayor Marty Walsh and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, explaining what the marsh meant to them. At the end of class, some shared their letters to the class, showing impressive public speaking skills! We hope that the kids will take a closer look at the marvelous marsh right in their backyard next time they have the chance to visit, and realize their potential for influencing local legislation. 

Maverick Landing

Life Cycle of Plants (10/30 NATURE Lesson)

The life cycles of plants! Wednesday, October 30 The Climate NATURE program helped facilitate a nature-inspired art project at the Maverick Community Center in East Boston. The Youth were able to make mask from the leaves, seed pods, acorns, and twigs collected from Boston.

Before making the mask, a lesson was conducted on the lifecycle of plants. The youth in the community center learned why trees lose their leaves in the fall. They also learned about important concepts such as photosynthesis, winterization, and the formation of glucose by leaves.

After the lesson, we transitioned into the mask making activity and it was a success! Using foliage and more of nature’s amazing resources, the kids made their own animal masks. Soon the room was filled with owls and foxes and more. Creativity ran wild!

Toward the end of the lesson the youth decided to put on a play about the environment. Many kids took on the role of mother and sister nature and helped maintain and protect the forest. The performance was amazing and demonstrated that the youth not only really enjoyed the activity but learned from it. 

McKay Elementary

Apples around the World! (11/1 NATURE Lesson)

This week we focused on a New England staple: apples! From the life cycle, to the geography, to the taste, students explored many aspects of this tasty treat. At one station students discussed how in the world a tiny seed turns into a fully grown apple. Using this information each student colored one stage of the life cycle of an apple and arranged the stages in chronological order.

At another station we learned where apples are grown and how they are transported. Students enthusiastically played several rounds of “Apples Around the World” a game in which apples are passed in a circle with nothing but your elbows! After the game the students discussed how much energy it takes to transport apples and the benefits of eating local produce.

At the final station students learned about the anatomy of an apple and scientifically analyzed apple slices using the five senses. Some popular adjectives were “sweet,” “fresh,” “crunchy,” “smooth,” and “like-an-apple!”

Maverick Landing

Apple Cider Making at Maverick Community Center! (10/23 NATURE Lesson)

Leaves, apples, cider, oh my!

Fall is officially here and NATURE is ready to celebrate the harvest of the season! We began the conversation by discussing the lifecycle of apple trees. Apple trees are perennials, which means that the plants return each year. As the kids say, the trees go to sleep or hibernate during the winters. Perennial vegetables and fruits are very convenient because you only have to plant once and can harvest for many years. We are very lucky to live in the Boston area, since we have apple orchards and urban farms that provide us with local goodness. Kannan even taught us about an urban farm in the East Boston neighborhood! 

As the kids debated on the superior apple variety, the adults cut the apples into fourths. And then the fun began! We took turns putting the fruit pieces into a fruit grinder, ensuring that the apples were squashed. This required some strength, so we but on our big boy and girl pants and got to work! After our apples were properly grinded, it was time to press the food with a fruit press. This required a little bit of origami, as we set up the blocks to make sure that all liquid from the apple is withdrawn. This was a particularly exciting part of the process, as the kids were able to circle around the fruit press. We once again had to summon our strength. And finally, after all of our hard labor, the cider was made. As the liquid came out of the fruit press, the room was filled with excitement. Because the taste of truly fresh apple cider may be strong, we began with only taking a sip of the cider. However, everyone loved it and vowed to drink cider for the rest of their lives. When asked how they would describe the taste with one word, the kids responded with “tasty,” “sweet,” “sour,” and “SO DELICIOUS.” 

Happy fall and cider drinking!

McKay Elementary

Food Preservation at McKay Elementary! (10/18 NATURE Blog)

This week, students learned about preserved foods through a fun exploration and tasting activity! We started out with a simple question: what exactly is food preservation, and why do we need to do it? Everyone had a different story to tell about food that had gone bad, from cake left in the fridge to bread in a Ziploc bag. We learned about why food spoils in the first place- as some kids suggested, bacteria, germs, and mold spores in the air all work to break down food and make it inedible. We even explored how some germs are good and some are bad- like the bacteria in yogurt that helps our digestive system.

 Students tried to guess different ways to preserve food: many kids suggested washing food before storing it, putting food in glass containers and sealing it, or putting it in the fridge. Ultimately, we learned that there are a few ways that people have been preserving food- drying, heating, cooling, pickling, cheese-making or butter making. We went on a tasting adventure through these different methods, starting out with dried fruit. 

Through prunes, dried apples, pineapples, peaches, and apricots, students tasted the difference between fresh and dry fruit, and investigated why taking the water out makes the products last so much longer (ten months versus a few weeks). The key, it turns out, is that dehydrating fruit means that even bad mold, yeast, or bacteria can’t grow. 

Moving on to pickling, we learned about how salty water is also used to dehydrate products like cucumbers or olives. After giving everyone a chance to try an olive, it was clear that opinions differed widely on its taste! While some asked for more, others were surprised at the rather unfamiliar taste. Students in some classes also helped to make butter by shaking a glass of cream, and also were able to look at fresh cheese to see how even milk can be preserved. 

All in all, we explored together the different methods that can be used to preserve food, and how those processes impact how that food looks or tastes. We definitely have some more appreciation for all of our canned and preserved foods now!

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

‘Recycle, reuse, reduce’ was the theme today with the Climate NaTURE program at the McKay Elementary. As a way to foster the zero waste concept, we encourage the kids collect recyclable materials at home themselves and bring them to class. We saw their creativity shine as each made their unique recycled art project with what they had collected. From robots, to butterflies, to piggy banks and desk organizers, they used their imagination to make some really cool things. The 5th graders got very creative with an indigenous Mexican-themed craft using sticks collected from the Belle Isle Marsh and recycled t-shirts donated by community residents which were cut into yarn and woven onto the two sticks to create a diamond-shaped design. They decorated them with other recycled or natural materials for a finishing touch. It was a very fun project for the kids and teachers alike!’