Why We Need Design Lab

IMG_7610 (1)Here’s a challenge for you: quickly sketch a scientist. Easy, right? You might be thinking lab coat, eyeglasses, crazy hair, test tubes everywhere, computers, and oh… male.

While I may be making an assumption here, research has proven that this isIMG_7612 (1) how many people envision scientists. Here is an article explaining these findings. 

In design lab this week, students in preK, kindergarten and first grade were given the same challenge I gave to you: draw a scientist. Some drawings were consistent with what researchers have found.


Others were not so consistent.

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The article above suggests that “students who visit real scientists or engage in hands-on inquiry activities tend to draw less stereotypical images of scientists.” This is  why all schools need programs like our Design Lab and design thinking curriculum; so that we can change our stereotypes and create a brighter future. At each grade level, students are engaged in projects that involve hands-on inquiry inside and outside of Design Lab time. Students at JCDSRI aim to solve real world problems while learning that we can all make a difference in the world, whether you’re a girl, a boy, have crazy hair, wear a lab coat, or none of the above.

Our Eggs Are Here!

Today, Beth – the knowledgeable educator from Casey Farm – spent the morning with us. She brought with her twelve fertilized eggIMG_2181s, an incubator, warming lights, and lots of different kinds of bird eggs! And she also brought with her another wonderful surprise: a hen – Henny Penny – to visit us! We were able to touch her and see – up close – her comb, waddle, beak, ears, feathers and claws. We were surprised to discover that Henny Penny felt so soft. We even fed her some corn!


After we spent some time with Henny Penny and learned more about chickens, Beth then invited us to see the eggs laid by swans, bluebirds, robins, grey catbirds, golden eagles, hummingbirds, and even ostriches! We learned that eggs are camouflaged to be either the same color as their nests or as their mothers. 


Beth then showed us the incubator into which we will place our eggs. There they will stay (round side up, pointy side down) for 21 days until they hatch. We will have both Rhode Island Red and Black Ranger chicks.

Our countdown has begun . . . we can hardly wait!



Field Trips With a Purpose

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The third grade class went on two field trips this month. The purpose was for them to learn more about the Narragansett Bay and the ocean life in the Bay. We will be turning our learning into a class nonfiction book along with producing projects of the students’ choosing.
The first trip was to the Biomes Center. There they were able to participate in a scavenger hunt, touch some sharks and skates, and pick an animal they would like to research further. All the students had a great time and were able to speak with volunteers who helped us learn more. One student learned that flounder start off in life more like regular fish and flatten out when they get older! Also, they have a special adaptation to change colors to match the sand on the ocean floor. Three of the boys in our class won shark tooth necklaces by completing the scavenger hunt.
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The second trip was to the URI Bay Campus. We first heard about the life cycles within our Bay and the importance of eel bed grasses to our Bay’s ecosystem. Then we went to the student aquarium where students showed us some of the experiments they are conducting. We saw baby lobsters, tanks full of skates (which they were feeding), a very energetic dogfish shark, and a rare blue lobster.

STEAM in Action: Laurence Humier Visit

In late January, Laurence Humier, a Be24306780639_1ff6d87552_klgian architectural engineer who works in Milan, presented to our parents on the topic “Science and Young Children.” Ms. Humier’s work has been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, and she was recently honored with the title of Knight of Merit Walloon by the Belgian government. Her work combines expressiveness, experimentation, science and art in unique ways.

Ms. Humier spent a full 24378947170_d217ae8c20_kday working with students in Kindergarten through Grade 5, leading them in an exploration of the properties of common household ingredients (such as baking powder, cornstarch, and talcum powder). After investigating the reactions and textures produced by combining various ingredients with colored water, the students created their own mixtures to construct self-portraits.

The students learned a lot, got their hands dirty, and had a ball! 24647497236_fc7bda4d3f_k

Science News – Balance & Motion

Second grade students are learning a great deal by observing and comparing how objects balance, spin and roll. Observing, communicating, and comparing are all important thinking processes that we are using during our investigations of these objects and systems. Students are having a blast building their own spinners, zoomers, and twirlers.


Avian Architecture Workshop by RISD STEAMmates

This past fall, students from the Brown/RISD STEAM club came to JCDSRI to give interdisciplinary lessons to tie together what the students were learning in different classes. Anthony Peer (RISD Industrial Design ’16) and assistant Soo Hyun Shin (RISD MFA Graphic Design ’15) led Avian Architecture, a workshop that gave the 3rd and 4th grade students a hands-on look into the construction of a bird’s nest. Below are some thoughts from Anthony.

 Gathering Materials at Blackstone Park

A very important aspect of the lesson was to allow the students to get outside and experience what it is like to collect nesting materials. For this we took our first day of the workshop and went to Blackstone Park in Providence to collect some nesting materials and receive their field guide notebooks as guidelines for collection. To emphasize the difference between reading about the materials used and actually knowing what the proper size, flexibility, and type of twig necessary to make the structure of a nest we looked at good and bad examples I collected. Being able to pick up a twig and recognize whether or not the twig they are picking up has the proper qualities for the making of a nest was vital to understanding the selection process that a bird goes through.

The students in the class were able to have a learning experience, which was centered on creating something for the purpose of learning more about a topic in science rather then making for a standard arts and crafts based lessons. A biologist or an archaeologist wouldn’t be able to learn about a topic from sitting in the library of a university their whole career, so in many cases they go out into the field to experience the subject they are trying to learn more about up close and personal. Being able to learn in the field rather then a classroom was vital to showing the students the complexity in the development of a nest, as well as view the effects that our waste has on the environment through material collection.

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Making Their Bird’s Nest

Each of the students was given the materials that they had collected on our outing to Blackstone Park and were asked to make a nest using these materials. Before we began the making portion of the workshop we went over some of the materials we gathered, and using real birds nests borrowed from the RISD Nature Lab observed the individual construction process of multiple bird species.

Interestingly enough the children that decided to not use the wireframe structures provided for them made very convincing looking nests using the techniques shown in cup and woven nests. Students that had a little bit more difficulty in the development of their nests that choose to utilize the wireframe were then able to quickly put together a nest in the same amount of time as those who did not use a wireframe. Being able to cater the learning experience to all of the students involved allowed for a pleasant and constructive time of making. Ultimately each student had an interesting approach to the making of their individual nests, and although not perfect representations of how a bird makes its’ nest, they were very intuitive responses to what they learned about nest construction.

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What the Students Learned

In completion of the workshop the students were able to evaluate their own nests in relation to the actual nests that were shown prior to the making portion of the lesson. Having time for reflecting on the lesson and observing the work that they did during the workshop allowed the students to see how difficult it was to replicate a nest, as well as have a more in depth look into the different materials they used in making their nests. The students were asked to do a simple sketch of their nest as well as answer some questions as to the setting in which their nest could be found, and to describe the type of bird that lives in it. Being able to sketch the nest and observe it from a different viewpoint allowed them to see the materials used differently. Many of the students had pieces of trash and plastic in their nest, which they hadn’t noticed prior to the completion of the nest. Enabling the students to take a step back from what they had made and sketch the product of the work they had done during the workshop allows for a more broad understanding of the lesson as a whole.

In asking the students what was the most difficult part of the making their birds nest many responded with not being able to keep the nest together or not being able to start their nest because they didn’t know where the starting point was. In closing the lesson I wanted to try and get this across to the students that our inability to replicate these pieces of avian architecture gives us that much more of a responsibility to protect the environment in which they are created. Besides trying to replicate a bird’s nest the students hopefully went home with greater appreciation for the environment and their ability to make positive change for the protection of the wonderful structures that nature displays.

How can this be used in other facets of teaching? 

Developing a learning experience that involves being able to have hands-on interaction with the materials used in nature is vital to a more practical understanding of structures found in nature. Being able to fully understand the process by which structures in nature are constructed there needs to be an experiential aspect to the study of those structures. The ability to not only observe what is in nature from a far, but to put the student in a position to have a tactile relationship with the materials that are used encourages a broader understanding of the subject. Encouraging learning through making should be a necessary component to any teaching structure and this nest-building workshop is but one way to get students out into the field to experience the wonders of our natural world.

Hanukkah Science and History, Dreidels and Buddies!

Chag Samach First Grade!

The best part of my job is the cross-curricular freedom I have to integrate the Chagim (The Jewish holidays)into the science curriculum. Hanukkah was not spared and we had a science lesson based on light and fire. We watched the following video then we went outside and tested two of the experiments from the video.

Here is the link:


* I did not show all of the video as we would have run out of time, so feel free to do some cool Hanukkah Science at home.



Here we are using a model moon and a lamp and observed the moon’s shadow as it moved around the sun. We even re-created a lunar eclipse!

Our Buddies came to visit!










In Ivrit (Hebrew), students listened to the Hanukkah story then worked together to sequence the story through pictures, solved Hebrew Hanukkah riddles and played with Sivivonim (Dreidels).






And finally, Ella and her dad just sent me this amazing discovery in Israel of a tiny Menorah found on a glass fragment that I just had to share with all of you. A Perfect way to end the festival of lights this year.

Thanks so much Ella and Adam!


Enjoy the vacation and can’t wait to see all of you when we return!