Tag Archives: MacLeish

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 5

23 Jan

Students Zoey Sims ’19 and Rachael Drinker ’20 report on the final day of their Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape.

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Today, after spending the week learning and preparing, we led the 6th graders from the Smith College Campus School around the field station for two hours. The day started with the students arriving earlier than expected, but this gave us and their teachers time to get them organized into groups. We collected our students and moved to our designated first activity. The groups rotated between the stations (weathergrams and the living building, Dan Ladd’s tree art sculpture, the blindfold tree game, the cellar hole and hike, and the orchard) so the students could see everything. 

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Playing the blindfolded get-to-know-a-tree game!

Zoey: Several students in my group found ways to bring humor to each of  our activities which helped get the other students more interested and involved. When we asked questions, the 6th graders usually responded with well-thought-out answers or guesses, which was encouraging. A few times, when they were done giving serious responses and ready for us to just tell them the answers, they gave sarcastic responses such as “aliens” as an explanation for the stone walls on the sides of the path. At some points while we were explaining things, it seemed like the students were just goofing off. I was happily surprised when they were able to answer questions and recall information that I thought they hadn’t paid attention to, such as how to differentiate between a white and a red pine by counting the needles in a bundle.

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A beautiful weathergram by one of the students

Rachael:  I was intrigued by the process of figuring out how to tailor the day to each of the students’ learning styles while also being on the move and teaching about multiple topics. My favorite times were when I could see something piqued the interest of a student who had previously seemed sarcastic and unenthusiastic. One such moments was at the cellar hole. I noticed one student liked to do hands-on things and so I hinted at the idea that, hidden under a big pile of leaves on one side of the hole, there might be bricks from the old collapsed chimney. The student almost immediately stopped goofing off and asked if they could try to find the bricks. It turned into a sort of treasure hunt during which they asked a flurry of questions and tried to date the pieces of brick they found. This made me curious about what I could do to interest the other students and I experimented with this throughout the day. Other highlights included the students teaching me how to whistle with an acorn cap, intentional yelling in the woods about nature, and discussing whether or not a track the students found was big enough to be from a bear (they eventually decided it was from a domesticated dog).

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Our debrief after the students left

After the 6th graders left, we regrouped to eat lunch, reflect, and debrief. There were a few experiences that several groups had in common, such as a struggle to get everyone involved during the first activity and a surprising enthusiasm for the blindfold tree game. Many of our classmates recounted specific challenges and successes; every group had a few things that went particularly well and a few which they would have changed if they had the chance to do this again. All in all, it seemed like we had mostly enjoyable experiences but we were also relieved when it was over.

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 4

13 Jan
Interterm students Ruby Kohn ’19 and Maya Salvio ’18, from the class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

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We began our day by continuing to brainstorm for the 6th grade field trip tomorrow. The 6th graders are coming for two hours and it is our job to encourage engagement with the field station.
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We had the help of Oakley, Carol’s adorable yellow lab, who was quite taken with Reid. They had some good bonding time.
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We decided to take the 6th graders, in small groups, to five stations around MacLeish where we will teach them how humans interact and intervene in the natural environment around us. One way we will engage with them is by making weathergrams. We went a little overboard in our preparations and prepped 200 for 37 students…we got a little excited.
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After planning our five stations, we did a dry run of the hike that we’ll do with the sixth graders. While each group will start in a different location, the groups will explore the Living Building, investigate the apple orchards and weather tower, examine the historic cellar of the Waite family, observe the art installation, and play the get-to-know-a-tree game as well as create weathergrams.
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Someone got snow in their boots…
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We then went back to the classroom and reflected on our day. There are so many post-it notes!
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We are so excited to meet the 6th graders tomorrow!!!
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Interterm at MacLeish, Day 3

12 Jan

Caroline Eyman ’18 and Regina Wu ’18, students in the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

Today was fortunately a warmer day with a high of 49°F–a nice change compared to 18°F on Monday. We started off the day with an introduction to the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station. The field station was named after the MacLeishes who were good friends with Smith College’s first woman president, Jill Ker Conway. The field station itself is 240-acres of forest and farmland located in West Whately, Massachusetts. Smith College first purchased the land for an observatory. The college wanted to protect the observatory from light pollution and West Whately seemed to be the perfect location.

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It was fascinating to hear about the development of the MacLeish Field Station which began in the fall of 2008. In addition to the college’s faculty and staff, many Smith students were part of the design process of the liberal arts field station. Students came together from different disciplines (landscape studies, architecture, engineering) and worked with each other to create things such as recreational trails, a solar-powered electric fence, and a fire pit.

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After the introduction to the field station, we made our way outside to the ropes course for some adventure education. In our first challenge, Full House, we had to silently choose a woodland creature to pretend to be. We then stepped onto the wooden balance beams. The challenge was to figure out who was what creature, without talking, and to order ourselves from smallest to largest without falling off. It’s always a fun time to play silent charades while trying to balance on wood beams! On our way from the first challenge course to the next, we divided into groups where one person lead three people who were blindfolded. We all made it safe and sound to our next destination. The next challenge was a low ropes course called the Whale Watch. We were on a large wooden platform seesaw and our goal was to balance the platform while completing different tasks, such as two people switching from one side of the platform to the other or the entire group forming a circle and shuffling in one direction–all while the platform was balanced. It is not as simple as it may seem!

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The afternoon portion of the class was spent mostly inside learning more about the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and the different aspects of the Living Building Challenge. We began by discussing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications for buildings. We discussed how members of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) wanted to make it more difficult to achieve a certification similar to LEED. The members of the USGBC created the Living Building Challenge. The Living Building Challenge has seven main components: water, energy, site, material, health, beauty and equity. We analyzed how each component was used in the building process and use of the classroom.

Before we debriefed at the end of the day, we received a lesson about composting toilets. We went down to the basement and saw where all of the human waste is deposited. We even opened up the chamber where the waste was held, and some of us were brave enough to look inside. The wood shavings covered up the smell!

After our composting lesson, we ended our day by continuing to plan for the sixth graders on Friday. We are excited for them to come experience the magical place that is the MacLeish Field Station.

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 2

11 Jan

As part of the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, students are writing blog posts about their class activities. Today’s guest bloggers are Rhiannon Nolan ’19, Sarah Netsky ’17, and Caitlyn Perrotta ’20.

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We started our day by tromping off into the snow with Jesse Bellemare, a Smith bio professor, who talked to us about how humans have impacted this area since the post-glacial period–changing the landscape by lighting fires, hunting larger game animals, and changing the natural ecological balance.

In the 1600s and 1700s there was a lot of tension in the hilly area that is now MacLeish as the French, British and indigenous people violently argued over the land. This caused the valley, where Northampton is now located, to become more populated until the hills were deemed safe to inhabit.

Jesse took us to see the stone walls around the field station which, at first, one might overlook, but he explained that the walls were evidence of property boundaries from the 1600 to 1700s. Walls with large rocks indicated that the land had been used as a sheep pasture. Walls with rocks off all sizes indicated that the land had been used as a vegetable garden because people more meticulously removed small stones from the soil.

Next Jesse showed us a depression that was once the cellar of a farm home in the 1790s, where a family of 10 to 12 lived and farmed. This home, and much of the surrounding land, was only inhabited for about a generation. The numerous children of these farm families needed their own land to cultivate and moved westward toward more fertile, flatter land on which to farm. The lack of continuous cultivation caused the forest to reclaim the land, giving us the woody area that we see today. These forests are young, causing them to lack a lot of the features that older forests have, such as large pieces of dead wood.

We went in to the Bechtel Environmental Classroom to eat lunch (and nuts!) and then went outdoors individually to hang our weathergrams from yesterday. Some people used the time to reflect and observe the landscape, similar to our sensory exercise from yesterday, and others used it to go sledding down the slopes.

After lunch, Maggie Newey, a museum educator at Smith, came to discuss visual learning strategies that we could employ both in our own lives and when thinking about how to teach sixth graders about the field station. She had us take a couple of minutes to examine our view of MacLeish from indoors and then do the same with a photograph she provided of Scotland. We did a similar activity again after breaking into groups to look at small objects from nature that we had collected while out with Jesse.

We closed by starting to plan how we would structure our Friday with the sixth graders. We can’t wait to meet them in a few days!

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 1

10 Jan

January at Smith: the campus is coated in a blanket of snow, the students enrolled in interterm classes are dressed in hats and mittens, and professors are immersed in grading papers and exams from first semester.

This week, the interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, is being held at MacLeish Field Station. As part of the course, students will be writing and sharing blog posts about their experience.

Today’s post is from Hannah Schneider ’18 and Marisa Douglas ‘AC.

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Day 1, Monday

Today was a busy day since we had a lot of ground to cover. After we arrived at the Field Station, we got to know one another and made our own sketchbooks. The first thing we used the books for was an individual exercise: observe the outdoors with as many of our senses as possible and record our observations through sketches, notes and sound maps. We each took about 15 minutes to simply be present in nature and then make our observations in the books. Upon returning to the classroom, we divided into two groups and shared a few highlights so we could construct a spoken poem.

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Using our sketchbooks and chosen words, we created weather-grams using weatherproof ink on recyclable paper to withstand the harsh New England elements. These weather-writings will be placed on tree branches in the places that inspired us or along trails for other visitors and neighbors to enjoy. The idea is that we write a note to nature and, in time, nature will write us a note back!

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After lunch, Paul Wetzel helped us brainstorm a list of possible animal tracks we could find around MacLeish, from field mice to moose. We learned that understanding the anatomy of an animal can help identify the marks they make (e.g. deer have jagged incisors located on the bottom of their mouth, whereas rabbits have slanted incisors, almost at a 45 degree angle, on the bottom and top of their mouth). We then used what we had learned to find fox, rabbit, deer, mouse and porcupine tracks as Paul lead us through the woods on a beautiful (and cold!) hike. We also looked at different types of trees and plants and even had a taste of one.

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On the way, Paul showed us other interesting things such as the weather station and woodland animal “highways.” Upon noticing some hemlock trees, the group also found a popular porcupine hang out spot.

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When we returned to the classroom, we used our new sketchbooks one last time to reflect on our day. To keep track of what we’ve done each day, we posted sticky notes on a map of the station. We’ll use a different color for each day, and at the end of the week we will be able to see our thoughts, questions and memories throughout the week.

The Best Internship Ever

25 Oct

It’s quite possible that I have the best internship ever. I get paid to, at the very least, drive a vanful of people up to a beautiful New England woodland, Smith’s Ada & Archibald MacLeish Field Station, once a week. Sometimes this happens more often; sometimes there are events, and I frequently conduct tours; I also do a lot of behind-the-scenes work for the field station. But Field Station Fridays are one of my favorite parts of my job. Despite the stress of hurrying from my 12:10 class to lunch and then to the parking lot to pick up a van and get to the meeting point by 12:30 (usually more like 12:45), I absolutely love my weekly visits to the field station.

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I’ve spent the last few weeks watching the seasons change: each week the colors are brighter and more varied, the leaves on the ground more numerous, blowing up behind the van like glitter as I pass. A farm along the way has been hayed, the hay packaged into neat plastic giant marshmallows (as I like to think of them); its pumpkin patch has been advertised, harvested, and now finally turned under. Another farm has finally run out of peaches to offer. The sign advertising fresh eggs for $3 a dozen hasn’t moved from the end of a family’s driveway in all the time I’ve been visiting the field station.IMG_0791

The wildlife has been quite an enjoyment for me in the last few weeks. I saw my first wild porcupine, a fat old fellow who seemed to have a bad leg; and then, a couple weeks later, I saw another! The wild turkeys are always numerous. And I take great enjoyment in the autumnal proliferation of woolly bears and other fuzzy caterpillars, which seem to be everywhere these days. I’ve been told that the ratio of black to brown stripes on a woolly bear can predict the intensity of the coming winter; does anybody know the formula for these calculations?
 
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Speaking of fuzzy things, I’ve discovered an odd flora: a minute beige furball, densely packed, littering the forest floor especially around oak trees. Jesse Bellemare, Smith’s plant ecologist, confirmed that it was some sort of gall, but didn’t know what kind in particular. For now, I’ve decided to call the things Tribbulus terrae, Earth-Tribbles, because they are tiny, fuzzy, and seem to proliferate before my very eyes.
Fall2013 025One of the many fuzzy creatures to be found at MacLeish- a hickory tussock moth larvae.
 
The weather this autumn has been stunning. I’ve yet to have a poor-weather day at the field station this semester. It’s been mild, sunny, and breezy most days, though there was one rainy day that merited a cozy time in the building with a CEEDS mug full of tea. Visitors have traipsed through in great numbers; I take a special joy in introducing first-timers to MacLeish and to the classroom.
 
My next trip up is this afternoon, and it’s looking to be another gorgeous autumn day. Hopefully there will be a couple more newcomers to introduce to one of Smith’s hidden gems, the MacLeish Field Station.
 
– EJ Wald ’15 is a CEEDS intern, a Mathematics major (because math is fun!), Landscape Studies minor (“because that’s what I want to do with life and I can’t major in it!”), and Sustainable Food concentrator. They consider themselves to be part cat, part plant, and part human.
 
 

To Collecting Sap…

3 Mar

Earlier this week I wrote about my adventure tapping trees at the MacLeish Field Station. Today, I want to share my experience gathering the sap collected from those same trees.

On Wednesday I went back to MacLeish with Reid Bertone-Johnson, manager of the MacLeish Field Station, to collect sap. We only spent about an hour there, but it definitely felt like a lot longer. It was drizzling out, and snow had fallen the night before, which meant we were walking through a half of a foot of fresh snow just to get to the trees. Not only was that a challenge, but once I got to the trees I had to empty each bucket of sap into a five gallon bucket that was then used to carry the sap back to the main road and the larger 220-gallon holding container. There was so much sap on this particular day that it only took the sap from one or two trees to fill the entire five gallon bucket.

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This picture shows two of the trees that were tapped together with one of the five gallon buckets. After I emptied the small buckets the orange bucket was too heavy to carry and I had to go find another empty bucket to spread out the weight.

Needless to say, I was struggling. Being from southern California, I tend to “overdress” this time of year, so I was equipped with my large, water-proof winter jacket. It didn’t take long for my hair to get moist, whether from the rain or sweat I couldn’t tell you. Reid ingeniously suggested that we only fill the buckets half-way to carry them back, which I did, but it didn’t help much. I was still spilling sap all over myself, sweating, and tripping over my feet as I slogged with the heavy buckets through the snow. I don’t think Laura had to deal with this.*

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This is Reid! He is emptying one of our five gallon buckets of sap into the larger holding container that Mr. Bean will come to collect.

The result of our labor was a combined 37 gallons of sap from all 50 trees, making it the biggest single run thus far. And I am proud to report that the first tree I tapped produced about 5 gallons of sap that day. Reid called it a “hard core New England experience.” I’m going to call it the day the trees showed me who is boss.

This weekend I will be making my way to a local sugar house with other Smithies in hopes of enjoying some sugar on ice, just like Laura.

-Stefanie Cervantes, ’13

* Refers to author Laura Ingalls Wilder and her inspirational “The Little House on the Prairie” children’s book series.

Views from Poplar Hill

7 Dec

We have a time-lapse camera mounted to one of the poles of our array of solar panels.  Here are a few recent shots.

– Reid Bertone-Johnson, Field Station Manager

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