Posted by: csdailyblog | August 27, 2011

First Week of Academic Classes at Conserve School

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One of the best parts of my job as Assistant Head at Conserve School is visiting classes. Sometimes that means hopping in a kayak to watch canoeing instruction and take photographs, like I did yesterday, and other times that means visiting more traditional classes, with students at desks. Whether our classes are inside or outside, traditional or non-traditional, something interesting is always happening. Each time I observe classes, I’m impressed all over again with the skill, dedication, and imagination of our teachers.

Yesterday, English and History classes combined for an interdisciplinary lesson that brought home to students the idea that one courageous individual can alter the course of history. The period began with the English class startling the History class by pounding on the flexible wall that separates them, shouting President Reagan’s famous line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!!” In response, History Teacher Michael Salat hurried to open up the wall, merging the History and English classrooms into one extra-large room. Michael then joined forces with English Teacher Jeff Rennicke to lead students through a presentation on the sixties and social activism, which featured a moving video clip of Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering the “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, shortly before his assassination. A student re-enactment followed that simulated the development of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which established a framework for designating protected wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act was revised 66 times before it was passed; yesterday our students wrote the 67th draft. After being sworn in as members of Congress, students broke up into small groups, developed and debated their own revised drafts of the Wilderness Act, and finally voted to select one among the several drafts created by the class.

Somewhere in between the students being sworn into Congress and the Wilderness Act revisions being debated, I slipped out and headed downstairs to the science labs, where I joined students and Science Teachers Robert Eady and Andrew Milbauer as they examined chrysalises from monarch larvae collected in our butterfly garden. Each student gently removed a chrysalis from its glass jar, observed it closely, and sketched it. Sketching natural items helps students notice the easy-to-overlook details that make living creatures so fascinating. Students marvelled at the tiny golden dots that adorn the chrysalises and gleam just like metal, and they wondered out loud why they were there. As they examined the chrysalises with magnifying lenses and sketched them, they began to ask more questions: “What’s going on inside the chrysalis? Are those wings we can see developing?” The activity was designed to prompt students to begin the scientific process of observing, questioning, and forming hypotheses.

Conserve School participates in the University of Minnesota Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which, with the help of “citizen scientists” like Conserve School students, monitors monarch populations across the country. (Read this blog post to learn about our collaboration with the university on science curricula.) One of the goals of this research is to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the role of parasites in the decline of the monarch population. During science class, students got an up-close-and-personal opportunity to participate in this research. While Cody was examining his chrysalis, three small white parasitic grubs emerged from it and let themselves down to the bottom of the observation jar on silk threads. The class will now rear these parasitic fly larvae until they pupate, and then mail the pupae to the University of Minnesota for scientists to study.

During the day, I also visited math classes, Spanish classes, the Online Learning Lab, and students spending their study periods in the Gathering Space and library.

A wonderful day visiting classes and chatting with students was capped by the perfect finishing touch: a group of students knocked on my door about 9:30 at night to deliver warm chocolate chip cookies they had baked. As the students disappeared down the hallway to deliver cookies to another lucky staff member, one of them called back, “They were made with love!”

– Mary Anna

Thanks to Science Teachers Robert Eady and Andy Milbauer for contributing some of these photos.



  1. Thank you for taking the time to keep us informed! Meg, you must feel at home with the monarchs.

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