LOCAL MOMPamela Snow works for Harvard Forest coordinating a program called Schoolyard Ecology. Established in 1907, Harvard Forest is Harvard University’s 3,500-acre laboratory and classroom. It’s been conducting long-term ecological research onsite since 1988. In December 2014, The BSE Flow’s Katie Martin caught up with Snow — and her daughter, Ursula — to talk about Snow’s work training science teachers in the Mohawk Trail School District and statewide, and what Ursula makes of her mother’s career.
KATIE: How did you get your start in this career?
PAM: I had been a park ranger for a long time and led tours and did educational programs and then decided to go back and get a master’s degree in education, and I taught in the classroom for a couple of years. l’ve combined the work I did as a park ranger and the work I did as a classroom teacher.
For about 10 years I’ve been working as a team with ecologists — scientists who focus on nature and are interested in how different organisms relate with one another. In my case, because I’m in a forest environment, I study certain kinds of trees, plants, and animals in the forest.
KATIE: Where do you work, mostly?
PAM: My main office is at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass., but sometimes I work remotely, by computer, from my desk at the Bridge of Flowers Business Center, above McCusker’s Market.
KATIE: Do you teach kids?
PAM: A lot of kids are the classroom ecologists for me. They work at their schoolyard. So they go out and study trees or vernal pools in walking distance of their schools. We have locations all over Massachusetts and a little in New Hampshire and Vermont.
KATIE: Did you start this program?
PAM: I was hired to do this job and there wasn’t really a program in place, so I kind of started it with the ecologists I work with. And the data manager, he’s an important person on my team also.
KATIE [to Ursula]: What is it like for you, knowing your mom’s work.
URSULA: Sometimes I help her sort certain equipment into bags that she takes to workshops to take to teachers and kids so they can measure the trees. And I get to go to all the parties they have.
KATIE: Do you like plant life and trees and stuff?
URSULA: Yeah. But not as much as she does.
PAM: She hasn’t come on fieldwork with me.
URSULA: I want to go out and try it though!
KATIE [to Pam]: Did you want to do this as a kid?
PAM: I had no idea about any of this as a kid. I never had very good science classes in my school. We never did anything real: it was all in textbooks and on slideshows, and I never was inspired by that; I had no interest in science. And somehow, miraculously, I became a park ranger and I learned about trees and became very interested in that.
This is a really great job for me because I love nature now and I want to share that with other people and get them excited about it, and I want kids to be able to learn about science in a much more fun way and get outside and do real science.
KATIE: Did you inspire someone?
PAM: I certainly hope so. I train the teachers, and the teachers work with their students directly, and they they have said their students really get attached to the trees that they’re studying. They also say they’ve become the more popular teachers in the school because then the kids know that they’re the ones who take the kids out. [Laughs.] So then the kids say, Oh, you’re the teacher who takes kids out! I want to be in your class.
[Wayne Kermenski, at Mohawk, principal at Hawlemont Elementary School now, works with Pam’s program.]
Play and exploration make nature real for kids. Teachers verify this all the time: that the program helps kids connect with nature and value the natural world, and therefore end up wanting to protect the natural world. I want people in general to build a connection with the natural world.
For teachers it’s great because their kids want to do it, so it’s something that’s exciting and interesting for them, and they can still build up all the skills they need in science.
And it does relate to the science frameworks that are current in Massachusetts, based on the next-generation science standards from the federal government. So it fits what science teachers are supposed to be doing and covering. It’s better for the older kids [grades 4-6] in the elementary level.
KATIE: How much does it cost?
PAM: All we charge is $50 for the first year that the teacher enters the program. That gives the teacher all the materials they need and training and year-round support. They can send data to us, and questions to us.
It’s a time issue more than anything. Teachers and administrators are under a lot of pressure right now to perform on the MCAS, and at the elementary level right now the big focus is on language arts and math.
And it is easier to teach from a book and do really set activities when you know what the answers are going to be. With real science we wouldn’t know the answer in advance or it wouldn’t be science. In real science we’re investigating something that we don’t know the answer to. In our project we think we know, we have a hypotheses — what we think we know — but we need the data to prove it. And the students learn how that works: when you have a question you don’t know everything about and then a lot of unexpected things can happen.
And then they can collect the data and track it over time. It’s like a relay: Students collect the data in one grade level, and then they move on to the next grade level, and another grade comes up and takes the baton, so to speak, and add the data to collect to that project over time.
That all adds to the data set: Is there a long-term pattern here or not? What is the data telling us? It’s sort of solving the answer to the question.
SHELBURNE—Josh Simpson, glassblower, designs and creates many pieces in his studio in Shelburne. He works with glass to create masterpieces. Among his masterpieces, which you can see at Salmon Falls Artisans Showroom and all around the world, are his glass planets.
He also makes vases, bowls, and other glass pieces.
He gave The BSE Flow a tour of his studio, which is in a red barn, in early December. It was cold outside, with snow on the ground, but inside the studio it was warm, with three furnaces glowing orange with incredibly hot glass. The handles of the furnaces were shaped like metal dragons.
In his “Planet Room,” Simpson works very hard making cane: colorful glass rods. Then he cuts these up into circles and melts them and gold foil and other crushed, colored glass into the planets so they look kind of like barnacles.
When Simpson is almost done with a globe he breaks it off of the rod that it’s on and uses a blowtorch to shape the planet into a sphere.
When it’s cool enough he sands off the bottom — because where the glass was connected to the rod it is razor-sharp.
Simpson says it takes longer to sand and polish the bottom of the globe than to make the whole thing. He uses a spinning disk that’s coated in diamond dust to do this part.
Then he etches his name into the bottom of the globe with a drill that makes a high-pitched sound like a dentist’s drill. Each one has to be perfect before he will sign it.
It takes many steps to smooth out what was once so sharp it could cut your finger into something as smooth as a pebble.
When asked what he would say to a kid who wants to become a glass artist, he said, “Take classes. Go to school. Get practice.”
You have to be able to do many things at once. You have to work the molten glass in the furnace and keep it on the stick so it doesn’t fall off onto the ground, and all the while you have to shape it and watch out that you don’t burn yourself.
Glass becomes hard to work with if it is left out even though it takes so long to cool down, so it’s a pretty difficult job.
It’s no coincidence that Simpson makes glass planets and likes space. His wife, Catherine “Cady” Coleman, is an astronaut. She’s been to space several times and was on the International Space Station.
With additional reporting by Kara Bohonowicz. For more information, including videos, articles, exhibitions, and details of Josh Simpson’s globe-spanning Infinity Project, visit Josh Simpson Contemporary Glass at www.megaplanet.com.
Mock trial exonerates King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella
MRS. GOODMAN’S fifth-grade class held a mock trial in the gym Nov. 5 after researching facts about who killed the native Taíno people of the Caribbean.
[The Taíno became extinct as a culture following settlement by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.]
There were six groups at the mock trial: the Taíno group, Columbus’ group, Columbus’ men, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, a prosecutor, and the jury. Each group had to collect facts for the defense. Who would have to face the truth: that they were the ones responsible for the death of the Taíno?
The jury was chosen at the last minute. The prosecutor had to research everyone’s topic, and at the trial they asked the groups questions — and the groups had to be prepared with answers.
The judge, Conner Hayes, delivered an opening speech, and the trial began.
Each group explained why they felt they were not guilty.
The prosecutor asked tough questions, and everybody gave great responses.
At the end, the jury said that the guilty party were … Columbus and his men!
At that, our judge paused and gave a final word: “They’re guilty!”
After the trial we asked Hayes if the verdict surprised him. He said it did.
“I really thought King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were going to lose because they gave Columbus the money and power to kill the Taíno. They didn’t know he was going to kill them but they still have him the money and power.”
The Taíno were a peaceful group, Columbus attacked their huts at night, made them slaves, and made them look for gold. If they didn’t, “there would be consequences,” Hayes said: “Columbus would do things like cut off their hands,”
“I don’t think anybody thought they [the Taíno] were guilty.”
Hayes also said he was surprised Columbus’ men were found guilty.
“They didn’t really do anything. They would’ve gotten killed if they didn’t follow Columbus.”
Hayes said he had to give a speech at the beginning of the trial, and was a little nervous speaking in front of a bunch of grownups including parents and grandparents.
THE HARRY POTTER UNIVERSE universe is an amazing thing. Books, movies, clubs, and obsessions.
They all were started by our own J.K. Rowling, who started writing books when
she was very young, even before she started writing “Harry Potter.”
She said the idea for Harry Potter popped into her head during a train ride. Looking out the window, she imagined a boy wizard with black hair, round glasses, and a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
Jo said other characters were inspired by people from her past. For example, Professor Snape was inspired by a mean teacher Jo had: Ms. Morgan; Ron Weasley was inspired by Jo’s best friend, who had red, flaming hair and a turquoise Ford Anglia. (When Jo was feeling blue, her friend would “save” her by flying to her, and they would drive off into the moonlight.)
Everyone who wants to get swept up in this world should read the seven books in the Harry Potter experience: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (1997), “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (1998), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (1999), “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2000), “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2005), and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (2007), all of which show Harry growing up.
I also recommend “Who is J. K. Rowling?” by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso.
In the Harry Potter movies — there are eight of them; the last one was split up into two parts — there are some things that aren’t in the books. Warner Bros. considering making it an animated movie or a movie starring Americans, but J.K. Rowling refused. She said she wanted full-on British people in the movies.
Here is a fun fact: J.K. Rowling earns more money than any other author. She is a billionaire. Forbes magazine said she earns $10 every second! She’s even richer than the Queen of England.
A certain five people I know (including me) are obsessed with Harry Potter. We love it! Harry, Ron, and Hermione are interesting characters. Ron, for instance, is not very happy with schoolwork. Hermione loves it! Harry is OK with it, I guess.
Leah Rosner, a student with me in fifth grade, said it took her “about the whole school year” to read all the books.
“I feel that it is the most important thing in life. I love the fiction and the fantasy of it all. When you read it you can go into your own world: the wizarding world. It’s important to me because it influences me to be different,” she said.
Independent, student-led media for the greater Shelburne Falls area