MS Head's Blog
In the Middle of It All
Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School
Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday the halls were abuzz with nearly 40 young scientists who had conceived of, designed, and executed a wide-range of fascinating experiments as part of this year's seventh grade Science Fair. Each project included at least 100 observed bits of data, resulting in a gyre of roughly 4,000 data points swirling about the McDonough Building. With all that information to wade through, it wasn't too hard to feel more enlightened after talking to these curious seventh graders. Here is a tiny sampling of some things I learned about from the students:
- Silver is a great conductor of electricity, although it's cost prohibitive (but it is used in iPhones)
- Cocoa butter is the most effective key ingredient if you want a lotion that is best at locking in moisture
- Beeswax is the most effective key ingredient if you want a lip balm that won't melt in your hot car
- How hydrogen peroxide affects seed germination
- Potential kinetic energy and the role it plays in roller coaster design
- The best tee height to use in golf to maximize drive distance (it's higher than you might think)
- The chemistry behind molecular gastronomy
- Birch bark is the most effective firestarter compared to printer paper, newsprint and cardboard
While I learned even much more than the brief snippets I listed above, what's more impressive is what the students learned about themselves. In keeping with great pedagogical practice, seventh grade science teacher Allison Roach had the students answer some reflective questions about the project and process. Here are some of the students' thoughts when it came to emerging knowledge of themselves:
- I'm actually able to do things that I say I can't; I just need to try
- I am determined to get something done
- I need to keep on top of things a lot more and probably work on over-preparing more
- I am a good learner when I focus and put my mind to it and block out everything else
- I procrastinate too much
- I need to manage my time better
- I like chemistry
- I can get things done
- I have an ability to do things efficiently and fast but thoughtfully
- I did improve at public speaking a little
- I do not like plants
Congratulations to the students and Allison for seeing their hard work come to fruition.
As longer breaks approach I often challenge our middle schoolers to set a goal — out loud to a classmate — around the number of books they hope to read during vacation, and I do the same. With a two-week respite on the horizon, I hope everyone gets the chance to play, recharge, connect with family, and enjoy some good pleasure reading.
With the deck cleared of specific schoolwork on this homework-free spring break, please encourage the simple act of curling up with a good book.
Have a wonderful time with your family.
The other night I couldn’t sleep. Despite having hit the sack around 9:30 and closing my book by 10, my monkey mind was still racing at 11:30. But yet! The theft of sleep was somewhat mitigated by the gift of insight that came as I lay awake.
Although I never touched my phone, which sat inches away on my nightstand (a necessity for an appropriately vigilant dad with no landline or alarm clock), several times I caught my mind telling me to reach for the device. It was a natural impulse as I was thinking about emails I needed to send and items I needed to add to my To-Do List.
The insight? The mere presence of the device, despite no actual use, was enough to interfere with my ability to sleep. Of course, a sole personal anecdote does not make for a proven theory. But there is compelling reason to believe (for example in this meta-analysis) that device access may be all it takes to mess with precious rest.
With that, I present some important data from our Annual Homework Survey:*
And now a straightforward request: help your child keep all internet-connected devices out of the bedroom overnight.
Last year 54% of all Middle School students reported having a connected device in the bedroom overnight. This year 50% of our students reported the same. That’s progress. Let’s get that number to zero.
And how did the rest of my night’s sleep go? Dying smoke detector batteries and the resulting impossible-to-locate chirping at 3 a.m. stole my last hope of further repose.
Sometimes the technology that’s meant to be our savior can sure feel like it’s the opposite.
*Stay tuned for more data in the month ahead.
On Tuesday there was a line of students out my door. You might assume a line out the door to the principal’s office can only mean bad news. But things are different at Bancroft. This line represented my favorite moment since our return from break.
Before I explain, some context is necessary.
One of the most engaging elements of my job is being part of the work our Middle School faculty does behind the scenes to design ways for students to own their learning. It’s exciting to see teachers creating truly student-centered learning experiences, building in opportunities for our kids to:
- Have voice and choice in aspects of what and how they learn;
- Learn by doing; and
- Share their work with an authentic audience.
But what does this have to do with the line at my door? It’s all about culture. Our faculty, and the models they provide, help to foster a culture in our community where students are not only able but expected to play a major part in steering the ship. The students standing in line had big, bold ideas they wanted to talk about.
Here’s a sampling:
- Two eighth graders presenting a plan to publish a Middle School yearbook;
- A sixth grader developing a girls' lacrosse club, replete with an expert outside coach, that will take place in the Field House;
- Two students looking to design and build recess accessories for Lower Schoolers;
- A seventh grader who is passionate about archery wanting to start a program in school;
- Students asking to use their recess time to work on robotics and science projects;
- A student wanting to rekindle our Middle School newspaper; and
- Three sixth graders hoping to start a performing arts group with the goal of putting on a variety show.
The line out the door was long, and the list goes on. The adults are creating a culture that seeps into the DNA of the School, and the students are absorbing it. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that kind of learning in action.
During the last week and a half here in the Middle School we had several opportunities to rally around major events that brought our community together. The eighth grade play, our community service afternoon, and a student-organized Turkey Trot all served to put a spotlight on the power that comes from a group of people, all with incredibly varied identities, uniting around common beliefs, principles, work, and events that are larger than any one person.
- On Wednesday and Thursday, November 8 and 9, our eighth graders staged four performances of “Born to be Wild,” a fantastic play that artfully and humorously revealed the inner lives of animals while more subtly exploring themes of identity, friendship, family, self-awareness, and self-actualization. It’s hard to say what was the most enjoyable part for me -- seeing the masks, costumes, and sets the students made; watching kids recite lines on the stage and then frantically jump down into the pit band to play the accompanying score; witnessing the behind-the-scenes support the Upper School tech crew provided -- there were so many highlights. But in the end the best part was the shared laughter that brought all of us, including every Bancroft student as well as parents, teachers, family, and friends, together.
- On Wednesday, November 16, more than 150 Middle School students, faculty, and volunteer parents ventured off campus to serve our greater community. We accomplished much and some of those feats (miles of trails cleared, pound of goods and food organized and distributed, number of books read to kids) are definitively quantifiable. But what is unquantifiable, and arguably more important for the development of our children, were the human connections made, the moments where empathy transcended differences between people, and the wonderful feelings spurred by the release of dopamine as we laughed and enjoyed ourselves while doing good work.
- On Thursday, November 17, around 50 Middle and Upper School students and faculty participated in a Turkey Trot, a run around our cross country course that generated lots of donations for the Worcester County Food Bank. Not only was the fun run a great opportunity for the student leader and her team to learn how to organize and run an event like this, one with lots of moving parts and inevitable last-minute speed bumps, but it brought many of us together. Again. As a parent noted to me in an email, “[we] appreciate the fact that Bancroft values and encourages this type of learning experience for the students, and that the community turns out in support.” I couldn’t agree more.
These moments that brought us shoulder to shoulder are profoundly important here at Bancroft. Celebrating individuality and emerging personal identities while highlighting and emphasizing what brings us together has always been a crucial part of the important work we do with kids.
Finally, below is a sampling of thoughts faculty shared after an exhilarating day serving our community. The energy, spirit, and fearlessness the students demonstrated in giving what they can of themselves for something bigger than themselves is an inspiration to me and all the adults who have the privilege of working with your children every day:
- A young student at Belmont Street School told Sullivan he was drawing a picture of him
- Siblings Anne and Jack working together to saw a log
- The AMAZING kids laughing and chatting with the elderly and making them so happy!
- Feeding sheep
- Seeing the supervisor of Wachusett Greenways beam about the work of Bancroft students
- The passion and joy in the eyes of the parents who witnessed chorus sing at Seven Hills
- The ladies at St. Anne’s were so willing to do whatever they could. Mary completely re-organized a shelf of holiday items and Abby befriended a baby and her mom.
- Celine getting an extremely short-term memory limited Alzheimer's patient to color for the first time (it's been a long time since this woman was able to do this)
- "Ms. Sigismondi, can we go sit and talk to that old man?"
- Sophie, after packing boxes of food up for Thanksgiving meals said, "I LOVE packing boxes! Can I come back here next time?"
Enjoy what you are thankful for this no-homework Thanksgiving break.
Choose groups to clone to: