Just How Do We Teach Math and Science During the Week of Thanksgiving?

Just How Do We Teach Math and Science During the Week of Thanksgiving?

At Phoenix we always start Thanksgiving week by cooking, in multi age teams of students ranging from K-8th grade. These connections allow students to learn real life and valuable lessons from the variety of teachable moments.  The Thanksgiving holiday reminds us of the importance of connection – not just with friends and family, but within our school. Phoenix is a family of students, alums, teachers, and friends. Our annual Thanksgiving Feast at school allows us to be able to celebrate together as one large family, connecting current students, with past generations of students.

Our community works together, where teams have to learn collaboration, and older team leaders learn to guide their younger partners through different aspects of cooking, from cutting and peeling apples and potatoes to different measuring terms, like rounded teaspoons versus flat teaspoons. Did you know cooking involves a variety of sciences, math, discovery, taste, textures, team building, real life learning and so much more? Students learn fractions in action, and how they apply to real life situations. During cranberry sauce making, students actively observe the physical changes of cranberries while they are being heated and cooked, and from sour berries to sweet sauce! Even the simple act of cooking can bring feelings from joy to frustration, to exploding taste buds and smells!

Older students learn to lead, guide and share their knowledge, while engaging the younger grades, encouraging them to participate and teaching them how to do certain jobs safely. Younger students are able to fully participate from measuring, to cutting to cooking the food. Students have to learn how to read recipes accurately and follow directions, otherwise their creations might just not succeed! These are real life skills, at all grade levels, and they teach students patience, team building, collaboration, guiding, teaching, and knowing when to lead and when to allow others the spotlight and so much more. All of these skills will transfer into situations students will find themselves in throughout their whole life, from highschool, to college and to their careers.

The students spend two days preparing and cooking a Thanksgiving Feast for our school community. From cooking and cleaning to decorations and dessert all grades are actively involved with creating their feast. On our final day we redesign the school to create one long table for the students, a smaller table for our Alumni visitors and a teachers table. Students are able to learn the dining etiquette of a formal meal, but in a very kid friendly way! By gathering around the table, students are able to share stories of their family traditions and enjoy the feast that they were a part of creating.

This also opens the opportunity for our community to reflect on the things we are grateful for, to find gratitude and begin to think about setting new goals for following year.  And while it is important to recognize the gift of giving to the community, it is also the time to show respect and indifference to each other. Students are given the opportunity to reflect, in a group sharing moment students comment on what they are thankful for. Kindergarteners are often thankful for something in their family, while the older students often reflect on life events or global events that are making them think on a deeper level.  Being thankful for parents is a common theme, from being given the opportunity to go to a school they value to pushing them to grow outside their box, to providing them with a safe home.

Students keep our local shelter, Lifebridge,  in mind and make extra food to donate for their Thanksgiving Feast the following day. Students here are used to giving, helping, volunteering and being thoughtful. From a young age students learn to be mindful and considerate of their peers, their community and to students around the globe. As active members of the EarlyAct Club of the Salem Rotary Club our K-8 students discuss, vote and implement community actions that involve volunteering or donations. The learn early that giving comes in many forms—time, energy, money, goods and services, and more. But all have something in common at their core: they are gifts offered without expectation or implication of repayment, only the desire to create a better future.

Have a safe and grateful long weekend!

The Week of Thanksgiving


Laying Aloft….Lay On

Laying Aloft….Lay On

Excited Phoenix School 6th – 8th graders and teachers heading to Los Angeles, for a week of marine studies at Catalina Island Marine Institute begin their day early at Boston’s Logan Airport. As weary as we are when we reach San Pedro, we find a second wind as we board the brigantine, Exy Johnson to spend the night until we can catch the ferry to Catalina Island in the morning. Sleep is all we want….or so we think.

We do much more than sleep. Exy Johnson’s crew invites us to stow our gear below in bunks, then offers us opportunities to climb aloft on the Irving Johnson, berthed at the same dock. Some of us scramble out on the bowsprit, sitting astride the spar or lounging in the net below. Diving cormorants gulping fish entertain the net-perchers who happily wave to boats passing by. We watch others step out onto the shrouds to climb the ratlines to the top-mast platform 50 feet above the deck. They place their feet and hands carefully as they ascend, clipping in to master the last climb out and over the edge of the platform.

Raya and Devon reflect on their climbs.
Raya: “I can’t do this!” My mind tells me, “You won’t be able to make it to the top!” My heart has other plans, though. Using the last of my dwindling strength, I use my displeased muscles to pull myself onto the deck. What I see below me is worth the climb.”

Devon: I grapple up tarred line, hooking my talons onto thin ratlines. I am like an eagle in his nest. I am loving my time, savouring every second until I call, “Laying low,” and it is time to descend,

With legs hanging over the platform’s edge, our top-men gaze out to sea, over alien-like cranes waiting to load and unload thousands of piled containers, and out to the west, all the way to Catalina Island in the distant haze.
Smiling and waving at each other, some from below, some from above, we let the peacefulness of the sun and sea wash over us and soothe our tiredness.

Soon we “lay low” (descend from above) and pitch in to cook a delicious dinner in our ship’s galley. There is no better meal than one shared on the deck of a 2 masted sailing vessel with the sun setting in the distance, painting the sky a brilliant orange.
After dinner we gather at the helm to share our writing with the crew and then Ken brings seine twine to our bunk area ready to teach us how to make a monkey fist knot to hang around our necks. One by one, Phoenix kids succumb to the long day and its adventures, and turn into their berths to dream of our first day “at sea.”

Marine Critters: Microscopic to Enormous

Marine Critters: Microscopic to Enormous

Morning comes too soon for some of us after being rocked to sleep aboard the Exy Johnson last night, but we must catch our Catalina Island ferry where we hope to see our first sea creatures….and we do. Dolphins swim alongside and grey whales spout in the distance as we ride along in sunshine on calm seas.

On Catalina we clamber over slippery rocks covered with red algae (plocamium) called sea carrot. Anyone feeling a bit hungry takes a nibble, describing the taste as “a carrot in soy sauce.” We are in search of Pacific sized tide pools to catch eels and octopuses and anything else we can study without endangering. We drop our “hooks” (binder clips) into teeming tide pool waters and hope for good luck. In the beginning we are a bit grossed out with the fish bait, but soon we become old hands at handling and baiting our fish clips, anxious to collect specimens for study.

CIMI eels are sneaky and strong. One was as long as James was tall. They steal our bait, but drop off of our hooks before we can get them into our collecting pail. We can see their fangs as they try to get our bait by biting the fish right off the clip. One swims right over Mike’s foot, easily escaping our grasp. Even a bright orange garibaldi tries to steal our bait.

An octopus wraps around the fish bait at the end of our line. We know we have it because it caresses the bait with its arms, but when we pull it up it must realize that something is “fishy” and lets go. Octopuses are smart so it knew something was up and did not attempt to grab our bait again.

We tuck in Algae and Invertebrate Lab before dinner, getting an up close and personal with green, red, and brown algae. We meet sea stars, sea hares, sea urchins, sea anemone, an octopus, nudibranchs, lobsters, and other tide pool dwellers, which we now can see long enough to study and draw. There are abalone shells like the live one we saw stuck tightly to a rock in the tide pool so we can admire the beautiful inner shell’s glistening metallic, pinks and purples.

Moonshine reflects on the calm waters of Toyon Bay at the end of our first day at Catalina Island Marine Institute. Even though we are tired and full of learning from our day’s adventures, we linger with TJ, our Cimi teacher, in the Marine Mammal Hall where we study skeletons of seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, walrus, and all manner of marine life. Devon becomes a toothed whale and Anna (assisted by Ella) becomes a baleen whale. Simulating how toothed whales eat, Devon may only devour one Cheerio (squid in real life), using only his teeth, at a time. As our baleen whale, Anna and Ella may slurp up as many tiny Cocoa Krispies as possible, but must spit out the milk before swallowing the tiny food morsels on which they live. Our results suggest baleen whales have the advantage. Anna and Ella consume more than Devon suggesting that baleen whales might have the advantage in the wild.

We stroke a velvety sea otter pelt and can finally truly understand why Russians and Aleuts came to the Channel Islands in the early 1800s and took thousands of pelts. Sea otters have 1 million hairs per each square inch of their pelts. Magically, at the end of the evening we even become seals and sea lions to demonstrate how they move. We are mother and baby seal lions calling to each other to simulate the cacophony of a seal rookery…even louder than a pack of Phoenix kids having fun. It must be bedtime!

Day 6 Cimi Friday kayak & home

Day 6 Cimi Friday kayak & home

None of us can believe today is our last at CIMI. The week has flown, packed with marine science, challenge, adventure, and fun. TJ is the BEST Marine Science instructor across the 7 seas! All Phoenix kids enthusiastically concur. However, the week is not quite over. Kayaking awaits us this morning. First we do Kayak Calisthenics to practice how to hold our paddles and learn proper paddling technique. With our partners, we carry our kayaks across the beach to water’s edge, climb aboard and get a friendly push into the surf from TJ.

On the way back from Torqua Reef, TJ challenges us to show our strength and concentration. We all switch places with our paddling partners with ease. Then we switch kayaks with another set of kayakers and stay dry! Silly TJ orders us to stand up, one of us at the bow, one at the stern, and sing a love song. You should hear us all! The final challenge before we could jump into 100’of gloriously clear Pacific Ocean for the last time is to hang 10 from the bow of our kayak. We ALL do it successfully and with style!

Mason: I dip my paddle into the cool, morning water. My kayak glides across the surface breaking the small ripples in the sea. Rocky cactus covered mountains tower over me. Sleeping boats bob in the open ocean. This morning seems too good to be true.

Harper: “ICEBERG!” someone shouts as 2 kayaks collide! I look ahead and see what looks like a game of bumper cars being played! Kayaks are crashing and uncontrollable laughter is coming from both sides! Meanwhile my partner and I are taking our time looking below us to see what is going on underneath us in the marine world! We cannot see many fish from here, but when a sea lion swims below us, it’s pretty hard to miss!

We say goodbye to Catalina and TJ as we board the ferry to Long Beach. TJ and the other CIMI instructors salute us all as we leave the pier by catapulting themselves into the water, each with a crazy style just for us, leaving us smiling and laughing. Although we are leaving a magical week behind, our memories will be with us forever.

All of our memories are treasured, but one we can all agree is the craziest is wrestling our wetsuits…on and off.

We could all tell Devon’s story….we lived it, too.
I exit the frost-biting water and dart to the Dive Deck thinking that will be my safe haven, only to rip my wetsuit shirt off and feel as if my chest is being waxed. I tug my booties off and feel relief, but I know that the battle is just beginning. I look down to see my spandex-like pants. I know this will be a war, but you know what they say, “The harder the battle the sweeter the victory!” I yank at the demon-like pants whose sole purpose is to inflict pain. At first my pants slide down my legs, but the ankles are a different story. I pull and pull, but they just don’t move. Thankfully, I see a figure in the shape of Mike. He rips my suit off and I am free of the pain of my wet suit. I am greeted by hot chocolate and, I have to say, “Victory is sweet!”

Goodbye Catalina Island…..for now.

Day 5 CIMI Thursday, Feb. 1 Back Side Adventure

Day 5 CIMI Thursday, Feb. 1 Back Side Adventure

Thanks to Mistal and Mike, and TJ’s magic, Phoenix kids are the only school group, ever, to get to go to the island’s back side. Into the SUVs we scramble, and up, up, around the winding switchbacks and over the top of the ridge we go. As we descend to the other side we see the wide Pacific breaking on the beach below.

Billowy clouds roll in over the water sending blankets of fluffy clouds sneaking around the mountains enveloping them in white. Phoenix kids hike up the steep, rocky trail ascending through the clouds until we look down on the wooly coverlet below, hiding the pounding waves from view. Higher we climb until we reach the ridgeline and the official Trans-Catalina Trail that takes us along the top of Catalina Island.

Mason’s words takes us along the Trans-Catalina trail over the backbone of Catalina’s rugged and steep mountains.
Scorching hot sun beats down on me from behind. Navigating my way through pure pain-inducing cacti and climbing the steep mountain trails make my legs ache and turns my mouth as dry as the sun-baked dirt under my feet. As we climb up to even ground we find a ripe, red prickly pear. The fruit splits under the force of a sharp rock striking it. My mouth begins to water. The sweet juice and moist seeds of the prickly pear linger in my mouth. What a delicious adventure.

Some of us leave the group to hike even further along Catalina’s ridgeline and find sweet prickly pear juice to refresh our parched throats. Others return to the sea to search for kelp as we snorkel along Whale Tail, an outcrop named for its shape between Shark Harbor and Little Harbor. We are lucky to find kelp as well as Garibaldi, an octopus and a sea lion in the murky waters. A few stay behind to enjoy watercoloring a journal spread page under the warm sun and reflect on our wonderful day on the “back side.”

Under the light of a waning moon, we gather around the crackling campfire, soaking up its warmth, appreciating everything that we have done this week. We read our favorite writing and share high points of our stay at CIMI, with TJ and each other. We have all had the same experiences but we have such varied high points. We listen intently to TJ’s ghost story, and wonder if we will meet the two red-headed children that are said to roam the camp as ghosts. We enjoy the camaraderie of being together on our last night. TJ breaks out marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers….we break out in smiles all around. Too soon our fire is doused and we walk quietly through the dark to our dorms. The moon will set and tomorrow’s early sun will rise over the ocean.

Night into Day
Shimmering dots of blazing plasma
Melt my face,
Pulling me to the stars,
But I continue to look.
A murderer runs through the sky
Killing our Blue Moon
And dashing off.
Blood Moon bleeds all night.
Sun creeps up,
Doing the Moonwalk