Learning Through Music

Love That Clean Water!
On Thursday, October 14, two scientists from the Charles River Watershed Association visited the 3rd grade classroom to tell students about the work they do to protect the Charles River and help it stay clean. With the use of a watershed model, scientists Julie Wood and Eivy Monroy demonstrated how what we do on land, such as using chemical fertilizer and driving cars that leak oil, affects the health of our river. 

watershedThe presentation was part of the 3rd grade Learning Through Music expedition on the Charles River. Next week, students continue their expedition with a boat tour of the Charles. On October 26, an expert hydrogeologist will guide students in conducting water quality tests on the banks of the Charles at Herter Park. Their results will be shared with communities around the world through the World Water Monitoring Day website.  Meanwhile, if you want to know if it is safe to swim in the Charles, ask a 3rd grader!

Second Grade Herpetologists!
How do you feel about snakes? Take an attitude survey and find out.

2nd graders are becoming herpetologists, scientists who study reptiles. After completing an attitude survey about snakes, students delved into researching the truth about these misunderstood animals. They began by building background knowledge. They drew pictures of a snake in its habitat, adding details after listening to books about snakes. In preparation for their fieldwork, students learned about how to keep a quality field journal and practiced making observations, sketches, and labels. 

Snakes in Second Grade

On Tuesday, October 5, herpetologist John Regosin visited the classroom and brought a live corn snake for students to observe and to touch. The next day, students traveled to Natick to do fieldwork at the Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. Snake expert Joy Maldolfs introduced students to seven live snakes, including sibling Northern Water Snakes and an African Ball Python. Students learned many fascinating facts about snakes. Did you know that girl snakes are bigger than boy snakes?  The pouring rain didn’t deter our 2nd grade scientists from going outside to observe snake habitats in the wetlands, woodlands, and fields. Students wrote and drew about what they observed and learned in their field journals.

Soon the class will be getting its own corn snake to care for in the classroom so students can observe a snake’s behaviors on a daily basis. They will also be working with two herpetologists at the Harvard Herpetology Museum in Cambridge, and an art instructor from the MFA who will help students make accurate drawings of snakes.

Final projects include a class book, “The Truth About Snakes,” and a song,  “I Love Being a Snake,” with original lyrics based on the essential attributes of different kinds of snakes.

Pumpkin Math in 4th Grade
Fourth Graders eagerly plunged their fingers into pumpkin gunk this week, all in the name of mathematic investigation.  Their class project, to chart the total number of pumpkin seeds in their class pumpkins and divide them evenlyamong
Pumpkins2 the student body, gave their division skills a real-life application. 

The students met this challenge with cooperation and joy, two of the Keys to Harmony.  Each group member had his or her own responsibility in extracting, cleaning, counting, and recording the pumpkin seeds.

“When they dry, Ms. Marzi will roast them.  Then we’ll give seven to each student in the school,” one student explained, adding that the remainder would likely be shared among the teachers.

Snake welcome

Grade 2 welcomes their new classroom animal: a cornsnake!  The class voted to name her Lilly, with the understanding that she will not be able to hear her name.  She can sense vibrations, however, and gets very excited when she feels percussion class rehearsing!

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s… K2!
On Tuesday, K-2 welcomed Benn Robbins of New England Comics, creator of the comic series The Mangalicious TICK: The Rise of the Setting Sun. Mr. Robbins shared the fascinating story of how he got his start as an illustrator. He also taught K2 how to draw comic book characters! Students compared Mr. Robbins’ writing process to the process they are using in 

TickArtistWriters’ Workshop to create their own stories. They will put the drawing and writing techniques they learned into practice when they draw their own superheroes and create a class comic book.

The Kindergarten Learning Through Music expedition examines Heroes, both real and fictional. Next, they will investigate local heroes at home, in school, and in the community. Earlier this month, Conservatory Lab parent Chris Arnold, a journalist with NPR, helped students learn the art of asking a good question to prepare them for interviewing local firefighters, mail carriers, and other real-life community heroes in Brighton.


 From Sea to Shining Sea


If you walk into the first grade classroom this fall, chances are you’ll hear students singing “This Land is Your Land,” “America the Beautiful” or other songs about our country. If you visited this week, you would have seen students deeply engrossed in putting together giant floor map puzzles of the United States.  In their Learning Through Music expedition, This Land is Our Land, first graders are learning about American symbols, from the Bald Eagle to the Statue of Liberty, and the big ideas about America each symbol represents.  They are learning about President Obama, the First Family,  First Dog Bo, and the White House.  What would a first grader do to help people if he or she were President? Come visit the first grade classroom and find out.

Stone Soup: A Thanksgiving Recipe from K1

Stone Soup
In their Learning Through Music expedition on cooking, K1 students are perfecting their recipes for stone soup.  They are discovering that there are many ways to make stone soup, but in all of them the secret ingredient is cooperation!  Here is the recipe they made as a class this week:

Stone Soup
1. Start with a big pot full of water
2. Drop in one or two large stones
3. Add some salt
4. Chop and peel potatoes, then add
5. Chop carrots, then add
6. Mix in beans and celery

Process to Perfect Pasta:
K1 welcomed culinary experts Doris and Andy into their class to demonstrate the importance of teamwork in the preparation of pasta, for their Learning Through Music unit, “Building Community Through Music and Cooking.”

“Each of these tools has an important job.  It takes many steps to make delicious pasta!”


“First, we mix the dough.”

“It looks really gooey…”


“As we knead it, the dough forms a ball.”


“It’s too big to fit through the wringer all at once, so we cut it into pieces.”


“Now we can take turns kneading…”


“…while others put the dough through the wringer.


“Once it is cooked, it is ready to eat!”

Shake, Rattle, and Estimate

Second graders are becoming masters of place values and estimation through a mathematical and musical investigation of maracas. At the beginning of the week, they were given a task: count a large number of beans in a large plastic cup.  Some counted the beans in stacks of two, while others counted in groups of twelve.  After sharing their strategies as a class, students decided that the most effective way is to count by tens.  Patterns started to emerge as students noticed 35 looked like three groups of ten and five single beans.  It wasn’t long before students could effectively count over a thousand beans!

Place value skills under control, students were ready to make maracas.  They listened to maracas with many beans and maracas with few beans and noticed that they sounded at different pitches. Then they built their own maracas and played along to the Charleston from their listening unit on jazz.

This is only one of many exciting hands-on math investigations at Conservatory Lab this Year.  Steve Goldman, Math Coach at Conservatory Lab, is leading a three-part Professional Development strategy to enhance problem solving, content knowledge, and assessment.

The curriculum at Conservatory Lab treats math as a performance art: a set of skills carefully practiced and creatively applied.  Students are challenged to compare, measure, and manipulate quantities in their classrooms in order to meet a tangible goal, such as filling a classroom set of maracas with beans.  Creating a useful product gives the students incentive to develop skills and apply them in creative ways, just as a concert motivates students to practice their musical skills.

During weekly professional development meetings on math topics, Goldman leads teachers in sessions on pedagogy and content knowledge.  Teachers hone their skills in mental math, data collection, and other content topics so they can teach each skill in different and engaging ways. 

Additionally, teachers examine different models of assessment, in order to collect more detailed information on the depth of student understanding in different areas.  Test scores show what a student can do, but they do not show where the students’ learning gaps are.  Examining student work, watching students solve problems, and interviewing students about processes are a few of the ways teachers will check for understanding.

Fifth Graders Stand Up and Speak Out!

 In the hands of a skilled artist, music can tear down injustice and build solidarity among the oppressed.  The fifth grade class demonstrated this with a stirring performance at a school-wide assembly of an original protest song.  Their Learning Through Music unit, “Stand Up and Speak Out,” is part of the unique curriculum at Conservatory Lab that uses the joy and discipline of musical experience to enrich all aspects of student learning.

This unit explores the American Revolution through the tools and strategies  colonists used to voice their anger at British rule and unjust laws.  Students learned the song “The Rich Lady Over the Sea,” that frames the Patriot’s anger at the tea tax in a dialogue between an overbearing mother and a rebellious  daughter, separated by “an ocean of water between.”  They then made connections to the traditional American folksong, “Mama Don’t Allow,” and re-wrote the words to give voice to the Patriot’s protests against British rule.  They performed their song, “The British Don’t Allow” for a school-wide assembly.

To set the scene for this song, fifth graders had to become a part of the history they were studying.  During a case study of the Boston Tea Party, students traveled downtown to the Old South Meeting  House to role-play the debate that took place  between the Loyalists and the Patriots in its original venue.  The next week, they continued their fieldwork with a visit to the Freedom Trail, where each student  chose to become an expert on one of the fourteen stops.  Now they are creating a Freedom Trail slide show which their freedom trail tour guide will feature on his popular blog, Teach History.

To culminate this unit, the fifth grade class will take a stand on an issue that matters to them by creating a class project that addresses a need in their school community.  They will identify a need and use all their talents to make a difference in the lives of those around them.