Boston’s Island Classroom Captivates BPS Students   Leave a comment

June 7, 2011

By: Paul Lamoureux, Program Director

BPS Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson visits with Connections students

BPS Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson visits with Connections students

It seems I’ve just said goodbye to 60 6th grade students from the Rogers Middle School in Hyde Park and Steve Greene, their fantastic science teacher.  Today, however, Thompson Island is filled with 6th grade students from the Mildred Avenue School in Mattapan. It is the last day of May, and the weather is beautiful for the 60 new students who are on Thompson Island for the first day of their Environmental Connections expedition.  The day is even more special because I’ve just finished hosting a visit by Boston Public School’s Superintendent, Dr. Carol R. Johnson.  Dr. Johnson, an impressive woman, came to Thompson Island to see what all the excitement was about, and also to interact with the students, something she clearly enjoys.

Learning to navigate

Learning to navigate

While Dr. Johnson was on the island, the Connections students were engaged in an island-wide activity that required six separate groups of 10 students to follow instructions, work together as a team and, by using a map of the island, find designated locations.

At each of these locations, National Park Rangers and Thompson Island curriculum specialists lead students through place-based activities that included conducting experiments, collecting data, performing analysis and thinking critically.

Wind and weather experiments

Wind and weather experiments

By riding in a golf cart, Dr. Johnson and I were able to catch up with, observe and interact with numerous groups of students, despite their dispersal throughout the island.  It was wonderful to see the smiles on the students’ faces, the sense of awe and wonder as they interacted with nature, the rapt attention as they listened to direction from National Park Rangers and Thompson Island staff, and the “ah ha” moments when the understanding occurs and (you’ll forgive me) connections are made between the ‘place-based’ activities and the desired curriculum outcomes.  Students not only learn to work together effectively, but also about topics such as salinity and density and evaporation in ways that are relevant, exciting and impactful.

Recording data from water samples

Recording data from water samples

Along with one of the groups of students was science teacher Chris Burdman, the lead teacher from the Mildred Ave School and a key partner with Thompson Island.  Chris was recently named one of Boston Public School’s Educators of the Year.  This prestigious award (which will be presented at an official ceremony on June 20th) recognizes Mr. Burdman’s effectiveness as an educator, which is no surprise to those at Thompson Island and the National Park Service that have worked with Chris for a number of years.  Chris is exactly the type of teacher that helps make the Connections program so successful.  By working with Chris early in the school year to integrate the Connections curriculum into his classroom activities, we make the program more deep and memorable, ultimately enabling students to have greater understanding and retention of the material.

Team building

Team building

In the Connections program, National Park Rangers and Thompson Island Curriculum Specialists visit school classrooms to co-instruct preparatory sessions prior to the students’ island-based expedition.  Chris’s approach is to provide the students with relevant activities even before park rangers and Thompson Island instructors visit his classroom.  Then he follows up with more activities after the rangers and instructors have left, in order to further prepare the students for their expedition.  After the expedition, Chris reinforces all of the learning that occurred on Thompson Island with related activities that solidifies the learning for the students.  This is the mark of a successful program and partnership.

Active learning

Active learning

As Chris and I explain this partnership to Dr. Johnson and then as she hears directly from the students on the island, I am extremely honored to be part of this experience for these young people.  Some of the students shared their experience earlier in the day on the Thompson Island ropes course, where fun and challenging activities served to build rapport, communication and respect among peers.  These are key attributes for groups embarking upon collaborative field studies.

Ropes Course

Ropes Course

Other students are enamored by the island’s historical dorms and classroom buildings.  These colonial style brick buildings, located in the center of the island, evoke the feeling that you are enrolled at a small New England college. Dr. Johnson recognizes the value of this atmosphere to reinforce her goal for Boston middle school students to perform well, move on to high school, graduate and enroll in college. Thompson Island and the Connections program provide a major opportunity to help deliver on that goal.

Team building

Team building

As we head back to the Pier and the boat waiting to bring Dr. Johnson back to the mainland, she shares her thoughts on what a magical place Thompson Island is and how impressed she is with the work we are doing.  I couldn’t agree more and again stress the importance of working in partnership with the schools, the teachers and the National Park Service.

Science experiments

Science experiments

This effective partnership truly brings out the most of this wonderful place: Thompson Island.  A place of transformation, where numerous forms of learning occur and where lasting memories are made.  I thank Dr, Johnson for taking the time to come to the island and know that she will remember her experience.  And I’m absolutely positive, that the students from our BPS middle school partners will have deep and lasting memories from their experiences and that school hallways will be buzzing with chatter about the expedition to Thompson Island.

Team flag

Team flag

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