Peter Hood, GBP Student
As soon as I walked into room 728 on the 21st of October, I knew it was going to be a monumental day in my high school career. I finally got to combine my two loves for math and the Earth into one class activity. In preparation for this once in a lifetime activity, I went right home from school the night before and studied up on the whole operation behind Solarize Needham on solarizeneedham.org. I also dug through my AP Statistics notebook in order to be absolutely prepared to conquer any given math thrown my way by the math legend himself: Mr. O.
The main idea behind the big push for Solarize Needham is, “In addition to significantly saving money on your utility bill you will be helping your community’s local economy, promoting the use of sustainable energy and helping the planet reduce it’s overall carbon footprint!” (solarizeneedham.org). Our main goal in class was to explore the cultural change and subsequent paradigm shift that has influenced the Solarize Needham initiative.
After we were fatefully directed into our working teams based on the shapes on our grouping cards, all of us students were immediately engaged in the classwork, starting to converse about the perks of “Solarizing Needham.” Our conversations started to lead to overall ideas about cultural change regarding going solar. It seems that the big push for going solar is happening with everyone trying to “save the planet” and “be green;” it’s kind of become a sin nowadays to not be environmentally friendly. I think Needham, in particular, wants other towns around us to see that we are taking the effort to saving a lot of energy. Being energy proficient has started to become a fashionable thing, and Needham is no exception!
Once we finished discussing our initial ideas in class, I finally had the opportunity to put my math skills to the test. Comparing percentages of single family homes who solarized and average family incomes for all of the towns, we were able to compare data and analyze data (two of my favorite things). We ended up finding things like the z-score (observation-mean/standard deviation), and regression of the different towns that are trying to solarize. We had to find these factors in order to analyze and interpret the data correctly. We chose to examine the percentage of single family homes with solar power with average family income because we expected that the higher the average income of families, the higher percentage of single family homes with solar power would be likely. After calculations, we concluded that there was no correlation between income and percentage of single family homes with solar power.
This was surprising to me: if people had the money to pay for solar power, why were they participating just as much as families with a lower income? I think Solarize Needham is a great way of saving energy and money, benefiting our community here as a whole. It really pains me to see a lack of people participating in it. Families with a higher income see solar power as a necessary process to take on if they could just pay their regular electrical bills with no problem. On the other hand, families with lower income aren’t able to pay for this adaption to society. This interesting day in GBP really strengthened my belief in going solar overall. I believe that saving energy and money would be two things I would take pride in once I become a homeowner myself. In about ten years you will find me lounging on the balcony of my mansion, overlooking my gorgeous solar panels lighting up my roof.
Sarah McEvoy, GBP Student
For over four hundred years, Needham (and most other towns in Massachusetts) has held Town Meetings to address issues of the town to be discussed and resolved. According to the article we read in class on Tuesday of last week, “the town meetings that took place in Colonial times differed only slightly from the town meetings we hold today.” It is so cool that after all these years, some things stay the same. In a typical town meeting, representatives from the town stand up one at a time and recite an issue that faces the town. Then, there is time for debate where people can agree with your argument or refute it. Once the debates simmer down, there is eventually time to make a compromise and establish a new law or ordeal within the town.
One of the main goals of The Greater Boston Project is to help us improve our oral communication skills, so what better practice than to have a mock town meeting for the entire class? This is how it went: Mr. Odierna took on the role of “Mr. Moderator,” who controlled the meeting; he posed two different issues that Massachusetts faces. The first was the tax on tobacco and the other was being the legalization of fireworks, both of which are major topics up for review right now. The class was split in half to do research on each topic. An exciting part of this meeting was that you could choose whether you were for or against the issue. Then, there was time to debate. The topic of the tax on tobacco started and students began to make their way to the podium, devices in hand, to present their case. It was so interesting to see the specific research and statistics that each student had to back themselves up. Great arguments were made and the debates were heated at times. After the two topics were debated and addressed, the “Town of GBP” made final decisions on what to do. The class was to say “yay” if they were for the change and to say “nay” if they weren’t. Of course, opinions varied, as they always do, so it was tough to make a unanimous decision.
This activity was effective in showing us what it is like to be a part of a town meeting whether it be from the 1600s or 2015. It was a great way for us to do research and, at the same time, strengthen our presentation skills. Everyone seemed to really enjoy this activity. From my time in GBP, I have noticed that when we have activities that require this kind of interactive participation, everyone has a lot of fun while learning something important. Learning about town meetings is relevant to our lives today because it is actually how many town governments are still run!
GBP students collaborate on group projects in class. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
Mark Walker, GBP Student
Most school projects are left in the hands of the students to figure out the problems at hand and get to a final product. But even when the project is finished, the presentation is done, or the answer is right, it is always good to look back on how the pair or group worked together. Were there any apparent strengths or weaknesses, pros or cons?
In The Greater Boston Project, after we do a major project students are asked to reflect on the collaborative work of themselves and peers in the group to assess the functioning of themselves and the group as a whole. We reflect on questions about our peers along the lines of, “How vocal was this person?” and “Did they complete their portion of work?” When reflecting on the group as a whole we are asked questions like, “How was the work spit up?” and “Was criticism given and, if so, how was it taken?” The reflections on these questions are then passed along to the GBP teachers for them to review and compare with others in the groups and their own reflections on the students.
Later, group by group, we are called to meet with one of the three teachers to go over the reflections. These meetings are are majorly a group discussion and teacher instruction on what was good and bad about both the project and, more specifically, the collaborative work that led to it. Helping the us realise our strengths and weaknesses allows us as students to improve ourselves in our group work for future projects. The hope is that these future projects will run smoother, be more efficient, and result in greater overall successful after each meeting.
Personally, through this process I think I have learned more about what really goes into a group presentation. Before, I felt that all it took was the information on the subject at hand and for the group to put it in a slide show. However, by participating in these group meetings and having to reflect back on how everything went, I have learned that there is a lot more to the process. Communication is a huge part of collaboration, not just in making sure people know their portion of work, but also in communicating along the way about how a group wants the presentation to flow and what should be put in or taken out. I have learned that time has to be taken to sit down and thoroughly go through every aspect of a presentation as a team. Without these reflections I would think something like, “The presentation was a bit bumpy but we got it done” and leave it at that. Looking back and analyzing each piece of the project through collaborative reflection and discussion allows us to improve instead of just moving on from it without learning.
Ellen Ingwerson, GBP Student
Only 200 years ago was Needham a different community. It served as agricultural grounds and was set in a time where religion was still largely part of day-to-day life. But there were also similarities intertwined within local politics.
Last week, GBP went to the Needham Historical Society, part of which is comprised of a replica schoolhouse: chalkboard on one wall, fireplace in the middle, and “rotting” floorboards. You can imagine kids rushing into the fire-lit room from the cold weather outside. It seems cozy and the type of schooling I’ve grown up wishing I could have, but though it may be warm and small, school back then was far from cozy.
After our “first-hand” experience getting to see what it would be like going to school as a Puritan, school seemed dreadful at the time. The class would have been separated by gender and the obvious tension of Puritan severity. Teachers would carry yard sticks and use them to whip the bottoms of young school kids–being punished for exactly what they did, or couldn’t do. Everyone would have been told to write down, re-write, memorize, and recite ideas that were actually very similar to what my family tried to instill in me growing up: the ten commandments, chastity, clean language, and to respect the Lord. Some elements remain classic.
Our day at the Needham Historical Society there was, of course, rather different. Everyone got together in groups and rotated to different tables looking at various artifacts from the early 1700s. We discussed and analysed the various maps, letters, and creative writing pieces written or drawn by different people during the pre-revolutionary era.
The Needham Historical Society, including the old schoolhouse (right). (Photo from the North American Reciprocal Museum Association)
A map at one table had houses labeled with people’s first names. The houses were spread out which told us that this few-populated Needham was most likely a farm town. A creative writing assignment written by a young school girl showed us that as time went on there were other writing assignment besides the re-writing and memorizing of the commandments. A journal written by a minister living in Needham records the families he visited and their religious status confirming that a strong faith is vital to having a high status and being “pure.” On the last table lay the recordings of multiple town meetings formatted the same way as today. Even the topics of discussion were the same: voting positions and town infrastructure or taxes.
All these documents show both similarities like the town meeting documents, and differences like the reverend’s journal. It was pretty cool to have the opportunity to compare these two time periods not only from reading old documents, but also getting to look at old pictures, clothing, houses, and different products displayed around all the rooms at the Needham Historical Society. While looking around you notice toys or stores that are still around today–history we’re unaware of right in front of us.
Though some traditions may have changed, there’s noticeably a lot more that has been passed down than we may think or even realize.
It is hard to believe that this was once the reality of Puritan students. I knew I always had a special distaste for Puritan beliefs (shoutout to The Crucible!), but this simulation made the feeling even more real. This activity made me realize that I might not actually have it that rough in school, contrary to my melodramatic complaints my family has to deal with when I come home. When I experienced the tense and oppressive nature of the Puritan classroom, I had a frightening thought; am I spoiled by Needham High School!? *Shudders*
Religion impacted all aspects of the Puritan lifestyle and system, and we were able to experience first-hand its role in education. In the Puritan mindset, Evil is all around. This harsh reality hit the lefties in our class and in Puritan times especially hard, as writing with the left hand was supposedly the “Devil’s work.” I suppose the only way for a naturally-born lefty to avoid burning in Hell was to live a lie as a righty. This just goes to show that religion somehow justified everything, and life was to be lived in constant fear of going to Hell. This essentially generates a lifetime of Hell, as Puritans were expected to frantically live their life attempting to counteract sins they made in the womb.
Puritans were born into being guilty sinners, and they accept this because their religion and society insisted that they were. Fear of sin and going to Hell was very prominent in this religion, and fear and guilt go hand in hand. Guilt was something Puritanism was founded upon. If there was no perpetual guilt forced upon them, the Puritans wouldn’t be so compliant and could potentially question religious authority. Even I experienced that authentic Puritan guilt as I walked through the door, and that shows just how effective it was, especially in a school context.
The dry, drilled and religious nature of the classroom made me uncomfortable, yet in some ways we do still face mindless recitation and other distant remnants of religion in the classroom. For example, similar to what we recited in our painful moments of being Puritan students, all American students are taught the pledge of allegiance and are required to commit it to memory as well. Even if it’s absolute nonsense to a kid, this ancient pledge is mindlessly chanted by our modern youth. Although this is technically now optional, there is pressure and expectation that you will join and respect it. Religion still has a role in this country’s basic curriculum as we teach our kids to recite that we live in “one nation, under God”, subtly imposing the Christian religion on the country. We have obviously progressed as a society and in education since the Puritan era, yet there are still aspects of our nation’s beginnings that carry over to our classroom today.
A group of GBP students walk from the Massachussets Historical Society to the Boston Public Library on Bolyston Street (Left).
Students in GBP Periods 1-2 gather together in front of the Boston Public Library at the end of their day in the city (Right).
(Photos by Ms. Tincher)
Brendan Lombardi, GBP Student
Obviously it was exciting to wake up and be going into the Boston for a day rather than being stuck in a classroom, but how much different could it be than a regular class? In the past, field trips have always been just a day to skip class. Whether it was going to the aquarium or the State House, there was just never really anything on these trips that directly affected my experience in a class. The trips we take in The Greater Boston Project, however, have a more significant meaning.
The whole point of GBP is to, obviously, learn all about the Greater Boston area, whether it be from what was going on 400 years ago to what may happen 5 years down the road. To do this we do things ranging from reading articles from the Boston Globe to examining documents written by John Winthrop. We bounce from analyzing or reviewing statistical data of the settlers coming over to the New World to talking about the damages of technology in our world today. Sometimes, however, it’s hard for us as students to sort through all the clutter that these different topics and topic shifts cause us. A city so rich in history cannot be simply conveyed through documents or lectures; the sights, smells, sounds of the city are not something that can be taught in the classroom. Instead, we walk through the Boston Public Library and take in its amazing architecture, working on our Colonial Context Projects amidst the massive stacks in Bates Hall. Or we trek through the winding streets of Boston to the Massachusetts Historical Society, where we get to actually see the real documents we read in class. Even the experience of taking the train in and seeing how close we really are to such a breathtaking city helps make all the experiences and artifacts we see on a screen in class finally up close and tangible.
Our class is mostly classroom time at Needham High and accessing information through technology, but it is also so closely intertwined with a city just a few miles away. We need to see this relationship between what we read on our iPads or laptops in class to the city of Boston itself. Teaching a class about a city only miles away without actually visiting it would be senseless; Mr. Brooke, Mr.Odierna, and Ms. Tincher understand this and have carefully crafted a balance of class time and out of class time that will allow us to get the most out of the class as we possibly can. As we continue to move forward in class learning more and more information everyday, I look forward to our field trips this year that allow us as students to really immerse ourselves in the city of Boston.
Shannon Kirshy, GBP Student
Facebook, texting, Twitter, and fantasy leagues are just some of the digital distractions that students sometimes struggle with. In our Greater Boston Project class, the 1:1 technology to student ratio has opened up many new opportunities to learn, as well as many distractions that will tempt us away from the task at hand. In class last week we looked at an article called “How to Teach in an Age of Distraction” that analyzed how learning has changed, as well as how this affects our interpersonal skills.
GBP Students use iPads, Chromebooks, and Macbooks to complete an activity at the Needham Historical Society. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
We learned how there are two main types of attention: hyper attention and deep attention. Deep attention lasts for a longer span of time and requires focus, such as when you are reading a book or working hard on school work. Unfortunately, this attention is becoming harder and harder to achieve because of how our brains are changing due to technology, especially social media. This is because when we look at our Facebook or Twitter, we use hyper attention. We only scan the page, not reading each individual word and simply looking for something to catch our interest. This is becoming more and more prominent in our lives as social media continues to overwhelm our laptops and smartphones. One professor in the article explained finding herself having difficulty focusing on reading one of her favorite books because she was out of practice of getting into the mindset of deep attention. After a few weeks of struggling and practice, it became easier for her to obtain the deep attention and could read the book with ease, which shows how our brain will change according to what we practice using it for.
Teachers have also noticed a difference in how students take notes because of the use of laptops instead of paper and pen. Students in college classes often take transcripts of the class lecture instead of bulleted notes that involve students’ selection of key information. Professors report that students are often annoyed if they asked a question, due this interrupting their transcription of the lecture. This is harmful for two reasons: first, it discourages students to participate in class and second, students don’t get the skill of organizing information. Students were less likely to participate in class because it would break up the lecture; participation is beneficial to the learner, but is harder for those who are typing every word the professor is saying. Also, by simply writing exactly what the professor is saying, students don’t get the skill of filtering information and just writing the important parts. This useful study tool isn’t as necessary for typing because students can usually type faster than write, but it is still necessary in separating the essential pieces from the lecture.
Furthermore, one of the biggest complaints among people hiring recently graduated students is that they don’t have the interpersonal skills required in the business environment. Students are often in group chats with their project partners instead of meeting in person and working. They would rather email a teacher than go to their office to have a chat. One student said how he felt that he misrepresented himself in person and he was more articulate in an email because he could edit and reread it before sending it off. I have experienced this problem in my own life as I get nervous when I’m on the telephone and would much rather be writing an email instead of talking.
In order to address these problems we must learn how to successfully incorporate technology but not lose the skills that are not practiced as much, such as filtering information, becoming focused for longer periods of time, and being able to present yourself and communicate in person. Technology has helped me with schoolwork since I can remember, starting with SmartBoards and huge, archaic desktops in elementary school to Chromebooks and Google Classroom in high school. Technology isn’t slowing down anytime soon, but in order to get the most out of these new advances we need to start using them as tools instead of a short cuts.
Colby McMahon, GBP Student
As we most often go back in time to study the history and progression of the Greater Boston area, coming back to the present time in GBP can be a nice change. Current Event Discussions (or CEDs, as we call them) are a way we connect with present day issues. Each student is given a specific presentation date where they will share something interesting and important that is of current interest in the Boston area. Breaking up into three small groups within our larger class, each person presents their story and questions, often sparking great responses and debates. Their main goal is to summarize the issue to provide background knowledge for the listeners, then to provide engaging questions for the listeners to respond to that relate to one of our two content learning goals: identity and perception or cultural change. An important part of The GBP curriculum is developing Oral Communication skills; the frequency of these mini presentations, as well as the small group settings, provide a great time to better these skills. And with all of the stories brought up and the diversity of views on them, the class debates always spark a very interesting discussion.
So far, there have been a large majority of stories involving political events, local business issues, and police brutality. The implementing of body cams on police officers, in particular, was addressed by many presenters and seemed to be something that everybody seemed to share a different view on. With all the different stories involving law enforcement in the world today, police brutality is an issue being talked about across the news. The differing viewpoints the debates often lead to arguments within the group. I can specifically remember looking at certain classmates and watching as their facial expression made it clear they did not agree with what another person had said; personally, I can also remember some comments that made me rather frustrated. With that being said, however, the issues brought up always spark interest and a conversation that can be informative. It’s important for people to consider these big issues.
The CED setting brings up issues that cause people who often don’t speak to come out and share a topic they feel strongly about. Being in the small groups provides a place of comfort for people to speak out in this way as well as work on their oral communications. The small group aspect provides a place to practice so when the “big stage” ( or speaking to the whole class) comes around, people feel confident and ready from the feedback and practice they got within their small groups. Taking time to reflect on present day issues is something we don’t do enough in school now and is a very positive thing we’re able to experience in GBP.
GBP Students Colby McMahon (left) and Eliza Corderman (right) present their CEDs to their small groups. (Photos by Ms. Tincher)
Ellie Kahn, GBP Student
The history of our city is well-known to all who have studied it: the desperation to detach from an unforgiving nation, a suspenseful and painful revolution, and ultimately, bittersweet independence. The stories we hear about dodging whizzing bullets, surviving cold winters, and other acts of strength sketch for us a portrait of our ancestors as heros, paving the way for us to live in safety and security. We are taught the valor of those who settled this country, portrayed through Thanksgiving arts and crafts in preschool, plays in elementary school, projects in middle school, and documentaries in high school. And of course, not to forget the abundance of gleaming statues and plaques located around the city of Boston itself, a reminder to praise those who settled it. After all, we owe our “land of the free and the home of the brave” to those who won that perilous fight we all know so well. But underneath the red, white and blue, the glimmer of the statues around Boston, and the Thanksgiving arts and crafts lurks a darker, more hidden past. It is a past that isn’t talked about as much as it should be.
The past few weeks in the Greater Boston Project have been dedicated to researching and learning about the different Native American tribes whose lives were transformed when the settlers came over from England. We have read primary source after primary source detailing the horrors, ignorance, and general disrespect that the Puritans offered to them, as if they were gifts. For example, the Nauset Tribe, who, despite being known as the colonist’s greatest “allies,” were decimated by disease and abduction as a result of the the colonist’s introduction. Or the Paugussett Tribe, the first group to help the settlers after they arrived, as well as the first group herded onto a reservation, leaving their land to be taken by the settler’s. Or the Quinnipiac tribe, who could not no longer sustain themselves because of the environmental changes caused by the colonists. The list of Native American tribes who were profoundly affected by the arrival of the colonists is shamefully long.
The point of that list: our history is not untainted. It is okay to want to celebrate our nation; there is a lot to be celebrated. We fought brutal battles to break away from a powerful country that aimed to control every aspect of our lives, and when the dust settled and we were finally free, we were left to pick up the pieces and establish our own nation. Our history is important to remember and commemorate, but we cannot just pick and choose the stories of which we are proud. Along with the tales of sacrifice and glory, of passion and of victory, we must not forget those who were made to suffer through trials of despair and pain in the cause of our history, the terror and disruption we caused to the Native American tribes. We cannot acknowledge our fight for freedom without first acknowledging those whose freedom we took away.
Maria Galatis, GBP Student
Starting a new project with someone can always be a little difficult or overwhelming at first, especially if you don’t know your group mates well. So what’s better than starting off with a collaboration activity? That’s exactly what we did in GBP to kick start a new project.
In this activity, two people were sitting back to back; one person was handed something to write with and on, and the other person was handed a drawing. In my group I was the one with the drawing. At first glance I thought “This is too easy.” I began to explain what was in front of me to my partner, and what started out as an easy drawing became extremely complicated. I attempted to explain where lines began and ended but I couldn’t fully get the correct wording. What I thought was the top was different to my partner. It was difficult to be exact on where each shape was placed and how to fill them in. I had to fight the urge to turn around and point to exactly where everything should be. However, when I was done explaining I thought my partner’s drawing would be an almost perfect match to the original. When my partner revealed what she had drawn I was sincerely surprised. I realized that I forgot small important details, for example counting how many dots there were in the circle, or explaining exactly where and how the rectangles were drawn. Without the small details the drawing seemed completely different.
One of the great things about GBP is within a ten minute activity students were able to understand their and their group mates strengths and weaknesses. I thought this was a perfect way to start a new project. Within a few minutes you were able to know what your capabilities were and what you had to be cautious of, as well as your partner. Communicating the small details are crucial to projects and making sure each member is on the same page. This class is less about individual work, you have to be able to work well with others in different circumstances. Knowing more information about your partner made going into a new project feel much less overwhelming.
Right: GBP Students collaborate with their project partners to replicate a drawing, using nothing but their own communication skills.
Left: The original drawing given to one of the two partners in the Back-to-Back Collaboration Challenge.
Photos by Ms. Tincher.
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