Organ Crawls: The Ultimate School Field Trip

The only bad thing about being an organist is that you can’t take the King of Instruments with you. No cases, gig bags, or covers exist: you must travel to the instrument. That means you are in church a lot to practice, perform, or even to go on organ crawls.

St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)
Hook & Hastings organ at St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Organ crawls are tours through the insides of pipe organs to see how they work and to appreciate each instrument’s unique beauty. I learned to play on a tracker (meaning mechanical note action, as opposed to electronic) organ, the kind featured in organ crawls.

Note that organ pedalboards are arranged like keyboards. St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)
Note that organ pedalboards are arranged like keyboards. St. Anne Church, Lowell, MA (K. Nollet, 2012)

Going inside this organ was like going inside a unique house. Built in 1889 by Woodbury and Harris (not pictured), the organ had a huge, old-fashioned bellows that had since been electrified.

One day the power went out during a service, so a tenor ran inside the organ to hand pump the bellows as I played. Otherwise, there’d have been no air and no sound.

Science, technology, engineering, math teachers, unite! Get with the art and music teachers and take your students on an organ crawl—a free field trip that you can walk to if you’re lucky.

Hummingbirds Hatch

Lots of people watch hummingbirds at their backyard feeders. But watching their ½” eggs hatch is fascinating.

My local birding store turned me on to Bella and I can’t stop watching. Your students won’t either.

Here’s a science unit that will last a few weeks. Tune in to this site and your students will be immediately engaged.

Have students journal their observations and the questions they discover. That alone will teach them more than any science text could.

April Astronomy

When you hold an infant or toddler in your arms at night, chances are they can point to the moon. Did you know that you might be nurturing a future astronomer?

This is how education begins in early childhood.280px-Goodnightmoon A shared experience, like reading Goodnight, Moon while cuddling, makes children feel safe, loved and nurtured. They ask one of life’s great questions—“Why?”—and you answer them using the circle of talking and listening.

Introduce the word astronomer and activate more curiosity. After the moon, teach them to find the Big Dipper, Venus (bright in the northern hemisphere’s western sky), and Jupiter (bright in the northern hemisphere’s eastern sky).

Standing outdoors or at a window, and enjoying quiet time while observing the sky teaches children, too.

When we observe and wonder at the sky, we’re cultivating an interest in astronomy, a science for everyone.  It’s free and it begins with love.

Are You a Feminist?

For some people the word “feminist” is a loaded one, filled with images of bra burners, shrill voices, strident slogans, and the phrase “women’s lib.”

Woman_holding_Equal_Rights_Amendment_sign_in_Los_Angeles,_California,_with_two_men,_one_of_them_yawningBra burning myth aside, a feminist is simply a person who believes in equality between men and women. It’s taken over two hundred thirty years for the 51% majority to gain the right to own property, vote, and access birth control. We’re still not done and here’s one reason why.

Barriers exist to girls’ school achievement in math & science, industries that lead to some of the highest-paying jobs. I’ve seen what three of these barriers look math girllike during my visits to elementary and middle school classrooms:

  1. Girls called on 66% less often than boys during math and science.
  2. Boys receiving as much as 4 times more one-on-one help than girls in math and science.
  3. Boys encouraged to use counting materials twice as often than girls.

Each time I showed my data to teachers, they were horrified and assured me they had no idea what they were doing. I believe them. It’s the little things we don’t notice that add up to the big things, like a culture of low expectations, low confidence, and little support for girls.

The same holds true at home. Have you heard mothers (and fathers) say to their daughters, “I can’t do math, either.” Yikes! Although probably meant to reassure a daughter, it does the opposite. It lowers confidence and relieves them of high expectations.female_symbol

As our society continues to evolve, remind yourself that adding support for girls doesn’t negate support for boys. It simply makes the world a better place for everyone.

A more equal society, thanks to a feminist point of view.

Cool Science: Why Are Trees So Pushy?

  • Enjoy this updated post from October, 2012.

Elementary science projects are not just for kids. Good ones  have something for everyone aged infant to one hundred! In autumn, your nearest deciduous tree has a lot to teach.

A Milford, NH, tree in all its glory.
A Milford, NH, tree in all its glory.

Make that tree into a cool science project. In fall, it’s experiencing the “Get-Off-Me Season.”

That’s what botanist Peter Raven calls it.  In this 2009 NPR story, he explains how trees push off their leaves when no longer needed.

To learn this science in nature, try the following:

  1. Listen to the 4-minute NPR story (transcript and pictures are below it).
  2. Take children outside for a walk. Observe trees in different stages of “pushing.”  Talk during the walk.
  3. Collect and display fallen leaves.  Include a branch with some leaves still attached.
  4. Ask children to write a story using what they learned about science in nature.
Ready, set, push! All that action at the end of a leaf stem–in a tree near you.

Science ideas like this one show how science in nature is available for all, both at home and in school.  This topic teaches listening, observation, discussion, evaluating, and creating–all skills that we reinforce in every grade.

Plus, any cool science project that involves a word like abscission is bound to be memorable.