Earth Day 2017

Each year, the AES Middle School celebrates Earth Day in some manner.​ This year we took a full week to celebrate the Earth and ended with a March for Science on campus on Friday, April 21st.

Official Earth Day Theme
This year, the Earth Day Network has partnered with the March for Science (#sciencemarch and #marchforscience)​. The theme for this year’s official event on April 22nd​ was Environmental and Climate Literacy. At AES, that meant building on our strong science curricular foundation, encouraging our students to think about the environmental issues that are important to them, and helping our students find a way to actively be ‘responsible, compassionate global citizens’.

Opening Assembly
The week leading up to Earth Week, the Green Team created a short video to inspire and get the middle school to start thinking about Earth Week.

We then kicked off the week with an opening assembly led by our student Green Team. We had two distinguished guests – Mr. Kamal Meattle, from the Climate Reality Project (check out his great Ted Talk below) and Mr. George Sibley, the Minister-Council for Economic, Environment, Science and Technology Affairs at the US Embassy.

Photos from our opening assembly for Earth Week, led by student Green Team. It also included guests: Mr. Meattle and Mr. Sibley.

Throughout the week, students worked on CREATING something that helped them to advocate about the environment or science. This included posters, digital art, and poetry.

Students and teachers used 3 advisory sessions to CREATE related to their Earth Day topic of choice.

A couple of samples of students creating art that speaks to what they care about related to science/environment.

March for Science
On Friday, the Elementary School and Middle School, along with parents and administrators and some invited guests Marched for Science on our school’s campus to advocate and raise awareness about Environmental Literacy. We used the Official March for Science hashtag — #sciencemarch & #marchforscience and also our own hashtag — AES March for Science — #aessciencemarch It was a great morning, with positive energy and lots of passion for science and the environment!

We even had our own logo, designed by two students: Marin Hirono & Ritvik Kumar

Check out the great photos from our March for Science!

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In the morning, we hosted a tree planting on our campus with several ambassadors from Delhi, and our Green Team Students assisted.

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The following resources were compiled from a number of contributors (primarily thanks to Richard Frazier):

Earth Day: Lesson Plans, Reading Lists and Classroom Ideas from Edutopia

What Exactly Are People Marching For When they March for Science? from the Atlantic

When Someone Tells You “the Climate is Always Changing” Show Them This Cartoon

Free Posters Celebrating Mighty Girls in Science

Half the Earth

23 Reasons to Be Cheerful (Thanks to Science) (5 minutes)

How to Grow Clean Air Ted Talk by Kamal Meattle (4 minutes)

Youth Advocates:
Earth Guardians:

Our Children’s Trust

Youth Activists Score Big Climate Victory in Small Minnesota Town

Vote Green in Delhi Elections

9 year old girl files lawsuit against Indian government

Cultural Forces: Physical Environment

According to the Cultural Forces, from Harvard Project Zero’s Making Thinking Visible, being thoughtful about the physical environment is important. Intentionally using the space for the kind of thinking and learning we want to happen results in better thinking and learning. Also, creating a warm and inviting space, allows students to feel safe and excited to learn.

There was a great article a few years ago about Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks. Cult of Pedagogy has started a ‘Classroom Eye Candy’ series, showcasing classrooms that break out of traditional rows and starkness, to consider flexible seating, and creating inviting spaces to inspire learning.
A Flexible Seating Paradise
The Funky Science Lab

Flexible Classrooms: Providing the Learning Environment Students Need from Edutopia

At AES, we have really invested in our spaces, and I have been so impressed and inspired by what teachers have done to create magical learning spaces! The following photos are just a small sampling of some of our amazing classrooms. I could have added so many more photos…..Check it out:

Kevin’s Humanities Classroom:

Kevin’s Humanities Room: Many teachers have couches and pillows at the front of their rooms for mini lessons.

Kevin’s Humanities Room: Not enough desks for students – on purpose. Lots of flexible spaces for students to chose what works for them.

Kevin’s Humanities Room: Thinking about function, as well as comfort/inspiration.

Amy’s Humanities Classroom:

Amy’s Humanities Room: Prayer flags, lot of books on display, and comfy seating in the front of the room.

Amy’s Humanities Room: Another angle. Lots of anchor charts that document their learning and mini-lessons.

Amy’s Humanities Room: Bean bag corner by the window.

Nathan’s Math Classroom:

Nathan’s Math Room: Tables for collaboration & group work, baskets on each table with supplies, lots of manipulatives and materials available.

Christie’s Humanities Classroom:

Christie’s Humanities Room: Comfortable seating in the front – cozy, warm & inviting space.

Christie’s Humanities Room: Lots of books to choose from in the classroom library.

Christie’s Humanities Room: Cozy corner seating area to curl up with a book.

Jeni’s EAL Classroom:

Jeni’s EAL Room: Bright colors, paper star & paper lantern decorations. Table toppers with EAL tips.

Jeni’s EAL Room: Fun seating in the back of the room – great for advisory lessons! And lots of anchor charts around the room.

Jeni’s EAL Room: Looking at the front of the classroom.

Courtney’s Humanities Classroom:

Courtney’s Humanities Room: Lots of flexible seating – high tables, low tables, couches….

Courtney’s Humanities Room: Space for a small breakout group. Professional reading on display in the corner.

Courtney’s Humanities Room: The book nook. Book recommendations on display and a great spot for read-alouds!

My Office:

Alexa’s Office: When you walk in my office, lamps make it feel more warm than just the overhead lights.

Alexa’s Office: It is a small office, but cosy. Rug and nice Indian coffee table, friend’s artwork, vibrant flowers, prayer flags, plants. Hoping it will feel inviting and safe.

Alexa’s Office: Looking back from the opposite angle. Also, lots of games, puzzles and picture books for when kids need to spend some time in my office.

Nobel Laureate: Kailash Satyarthi

Let us unite the world through the compassion for our children.
-Kailash Satyarthi

Ispahan Carpet

Elizabeth Burge
Rough timber gallows on which the carpets are woven
By a silent, sallow, dark-eyed Persian family,
Fills the room, bare but for blackened pots and jars
In the cavernous hearth. A flickering fire
Lights on the sensuous jewelled arabesques
Shadowing the makers of the webs.
Eight-year-old girls sit sparrowed on a plank
Rope-rising with the pattern, their unsupported bird-bones
Bent like old women. Only such little fingers,
Following the guides of coloured wool upon the warp
Left by their aunts and sisters,
Can tie such exquisitely minute knots —
One hundred to the square centimeter, says the guide proudly —
For the most desired Tabriz and Karmenshah.
One hundred knots in the space of my thumb-nail,
One hundred heart-beats of a young child’s growing,
One hundred hours for the space a foot will crush down.
O, eyes whose whole horizon is the carpet
And its traditional beauty! Who can unravel
The world’s weaving?
My swollen hand is gentle on the greenstick shoulder
Her large eyes look back at me with a speaking darkness.


On Friday April 7th, we were fortunate to welcome Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi to AES. Kailash Ji is working to end child labor in India and around the world, and has already saved 84,000 children from bonded labor. He has started a campaign called 100 million for 100 million – to help end child labor and provide an opportunity for all children to have a quality education.

Kailash Ji enters the gym and greets children.

Kailash Ji embraces Aarav, a student whose family is close with his own, volunteering at the ashram and working together on the same mission.

Introducing Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi.

He spoke for 45 minutes directly to our children. He talked about their bright faces, their energy, their joy, their dreams….he called them the true heroes and heroines of this world who are full of light. He asked our students if they dream. Do you dream in the night? Do you dream in the day? Do you dream of your future? Do you dream of the future of others? He explained to our students that they are fortunate- they have the opportunity to dream, they have the opportunity to go to a phenomenal school…and there are millions of children who are as fortunate as they are. And there are also millions of children who are not as fortunate as they are.

Kailash Satyarthi speaking to the children of AES.

You could see the love that Kailash Ji has for children.

So inspiring to hear Kailash Satyarthi speak to the students at AES.

Kailash spoke about the fact that there is one earth, and we all walk on the same earth. We are all connected, and it is not okay for there to be 170 million children in the world who are not in school, and instead engaged in child labor. Especially when there are 210 million adults without jobs. Satyarthi stated that it is these children who are not in school who are most vulnerable and the most likely to be radicalized. It is our job to protect our children, as all children must be protected from all dangers.

Satyarthi then told our students about his 100 million for 100 million campaign. He said that he is looking for 100 million children to be the spokesperson, the change-makers, the champions for the 100 million children who are left out.

Students inspired and pledging to help.

Ellen Stern presents Kailash Satyarthi with gifts and gratitude.

Kailash’s final message to us was powerful, the Three Ds:

  • Dream big – not just for yourself, but dream big for all of humanity.
  • Discover the power inside of you, and the possibilities and opportunities outside of you.
  • Do something – act now.

After school, Kailash met with a small working group of students. There were questions and answers for about 20 minutes before Mr. Satyarthi had to leave AES. And then our students engaged in a letter writing exercise and researching addresses of Heads of State for letters that Kailash will be sending out in a week or two.

Small working group engaging in letter writing and researching addresses of Heads of State for Kailash Satyarthi.

Last year, I visited Mukti Ashram (one of Kailash’s centers for rescued bonded laborers) with our 8th grade students on a Population Project (8th grade capstone cross-curricular project, examining the impact of growing population of India on different aspects of life….this trip – looking at child labor) field trip. I was able to meet and interact with some of the children who are rescued and it was an interesting experience to see the incredible work happening in Delhi for these children.


The following video gives an up close account of the kind of work that Satyarthi has spearheaded in India since the 1980s. There is video footage of child labor raids/rescues, which shows how dangerous, heroic and influential his work has been to so many children.

TED Talk: How to make peace? Get angry.

Service Learning

This year I have served on the Vertical Service Learning Committee at AES. Last year we added a performance objective for accreditation related to service. We are looking to find more meaningful ways to integrate community service and service learning in our school. The first step has been to learn a little more about what Service Learning actually is. We are all pretty clear about community service – taking action to address an identified and authentic community need. Service Learning, however, has been a little less prevalent at our school. So we have set out to learn and research and understand what Service Learning is all about.

We have done a lot of reading, and here are a couple of resources that contributed to deepening our understanding:

At the heart of it, Service Learning is linking service to the curriculum. From NYLC (National Youth Leadership Council):

Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.

  • Picking up trash on a river bank is service.
  • Studying water samples under a microscope is learning.
  • When science students collect and analyze water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency – that is service-learning.

Or, as Cathryn Berger Kaye says:

When classroom learning is applied through action that addresses an authentic community need in a process that allows for youth initiative and provided structured time for reflection on the service experience and demonstration of acquired skills and knowledge.

Service learning doesn’t always mean direct service. According to Cathryn Berger Kaye there are 3 types of service:

  1. Direct Service (face to face)
  2. Indirect Service (broad issues)
  3. Advocacy (education and policy change)

Service Learning is the combination of knowledge gained within the classroom with service opportunities in the community. Service Learning provides opportunities for personal growth through reflection, civic learning and deepening an understanding of social responsibility and citizenship. Ideally, projects are mutually beneficial and lead to a feeling of interconnectedness within the community. Service Learning is most meaningful when there are ongoing community partnerships. The standards for quality practice are:

  • meaningful service – relevant service activities
  • link to curriculum – service learning is an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards
  • reflection – prompting deep thinking and analysis about oneself and one’s relationship to society
  • diversity – promotes mutual respect among all participants
  • youth voice – strong voice in planning, implementing and evaluating experiences
  • partnerships – collaborative, mutually beneficial and address genuine community needs
  • progress monitoring – ongoing process toward sustainability
  • duration and intensity – developmentally appropriate and sufficient to meet specified outcomes

Our middle school has been building momentum around Service Learning through the incredible work of our Service Learning Coordinator, Cassie. She recently led a faculty meeting where we explored these ideas, and then thought about ways to get started in the classroom. Cassie prompted with this question: What authentic needs that students identify could make connections relating to themes in the curriculum?

Our advisory curriculum has been an easy starting point. The seventh grade advisory curriculum addresses empathy and extending our thoughts beyond self to others. As a part of this work, students collaborate with kindergarten classrooms in the late fall, and then in early spring, they start work with an ongoing partnership with Aanchal School – a school nearby that supports students with cognitive and physical challenges. This year marked the 10th year of our partnership, and in our third and final collaboration we hosted a carnival, with music, popsicles and fun games. It was incredible to see how much our student grew and matured in the way they interacted with these students who teach us so much about joy and how to care for each other. Enjoy the video and photos below.

IMG_0524 IMG_0528 IMG_0531 IMG_0539 IMG_0543 IMG_0544 IMG_0546 IMG_0555

Literacy with Dan Feigelson

I am not a literacy teacher. So I have really enjoyed the opportunities I have had to learn from various consultants (Barb Golub, Ralph Fletcher, Dan Feigelson,…) who have visited AES over the years in order to deepen my knowledge and understanding in an area where I don’t have a strong background. Last week, we have had the good fortune to learn from Dan Feigelson, a visiting literacy consultant who has been focusing largely on reading conferences to deepen student comprehension.

In meeting with Dan, his session was called Reading Projects Reimagined: Teaching kids to come up with their own ideas about books. Dan talked about the importance of freedom of thought, how to help students recognize, name and extend their own lines of thinking and ideas, and how to teach independent thinking which is free of teacher prompts. As teachers, we often spend so much time in school telling and guiding students about what to think, and this approach is nurturing student thinking and metacognition.

Dan supports that reading time in the classroom should be spent READING or talking to a classmate about reading, and that we should save our literary analysis and other writing about literature for our writing instruction. So we spent our time with Dan digging into reading conferences, and the concept of listening well to what students are noticing and thinking. The idea is to teach the reader, not the book.

The reading conference focuses on the power of naming. First, name the thinking that the student is demonstrating. Then, express how that thinking and reading strategy can be generalized for other types of reading. The goal is to build a repertoire of reading strategies that are transferrable. These will generally fall under the 7 comprehension strategies (which are research-based) for what children need to know and be able to do in order to understand and think deeply about a text:

Some of the things that we might do as readers:

  • connect personal experiences to text
  • think about characters
  • recognize bigger issues in the text
  • argue with the text
  • think about what they already know
  • make predictions
  • thinks about the role of the minor characters
  • thinks about the theme or lesson in the text
  • empathizes with character feelings

The flow of the reading conference went like this;

  1. Start open – “What are you thinking about what you are reading?”
  2. Start making connections to possible strategies – generalizable strategy that is transferrable
  3. Make a decision on a strategy and zoom in….”tell me more” (say this at least 3 times)
  4. Create a plan – consider the ZPD – What is the student most ready for? Listen to the most sophisticated thinking and push it forward. (We don’t always want to teach to the deficit….)
  5. Broaden the strategy back out (to what good readers do with all books)
  6. Negotiate an assignment with the students – make sure there is student ownership of the work
  7. Explain to the student why this work is important to the student and transferrable to other reading

“Noticing and naming is….crucial to becoming capable in particular activities…Once we start noticing certain things, it is difficult not to notice them again.” -Peter Johnston, 2004

So, as Dan said – perhaps the most critical role a teacher can play when discussing a book with student readers is to help name what they are thinking about.


When we joined Dan for a lab site to watch him confer with students, he started by explaining the jobs in a conference.

Much of Dan’s work was stressing the importance of meta-cognition; helping students to think about their thinking. He noted the importance of how teachers can model this, especially in the phase when students are first getting used to this new way of thinking about our thinking and how readers make sense of a text.

Overall, I felt like I learned a lot (both about reading conferences, as well as listening and question-asking strategies that would be transferrable to conferences I have with teachers as well!). I know our teachers were super engaged and energized. I can’t wait to see the continued learning that happens over the next several weeks to make sense of what we learned.


Maker Mindset

“When we encourage children to tinker, to tweak and to improve things, we offer them an opportunity to develop self-advocacy, the feeling of being a creator, a producer and not merely a consumer.” -John Rinker

On Monday during our Professional Learning Day, the faculty at AES spent an hour and a half in the morning participating in a thought-provoking session about developing a maker mindset in ourselves and our students. Here is Monday morning’s presentation.

In January, the middle school opened our brand new maker space. The space was new, but the maker mindset was not. We have had many electives and core classes engaging in design thinking, tinkering, exploring passions, creating, and more. We believe that the Maker Mindset empowers learners to explore, create, discover and define their learning journey. By nurturing a maker mindset, we believe that we encourage makers to be: curious, reflective, empathetic, have a growth mindset, agents of change and believe that they can do anything.

Here are some pics of our new space:screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-23-00-amscreen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-22-36-am

Here is a sewing club – one of our after school activities:


Here is another after school activity – Claymation / Legomation Club:screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-22-08-am

Here are students working on independent projects in Create Your Own Elective class, where they identify something they are passionate about and curious to learn more about:screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-21-20-am

And we also have an elective called Media Street Team that uses the space to create a middle school form of a ‘newspaper’. Check out their blog and their Instagram.

Gary, our Director of Technology, shared some resources with faculty that I am hoping to further dig into this spring, and I wanted to document them here. To learn more about making and creating a maker centered classroom, he shared Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez’s book Invent to Learn, which is a staple of maker centered education. Here are links to pdfs of Chapter 2 (Learning) and Chapter 3 (Thinking about Thinking). These two chapters make a compelling case for providing opportunities for students to make.

Gary and the Tech Team also suggest that the Parts, Purposes and Complexities thinking routine from Harvard’s Project Zero can support thinking in a maker centered classroom.

Here is an article and a few videos to further support and deepen understanding about the Maker Mindset.

From NPR: On the Lesson Plan Today: Make Stuff. Fail. Learn While You’re At It.



“We don’t need to change everything now, but we do need to start forgetting the assumptions that we have made. The future is more uncertain than ever, but we need to make our kids as balanced, agile and as self-reliant as ever in order to thrive in it.” -John Rinker

Happiness Advantage / Gratitude Project

Today we were fortunate to have Teachers Teaching Teachers for our Faculty Inservice Day. I was able to attend 2 great sessions with colleagues from the elementary and high school. In the afternoon, I attended a session led by Mary Miller called Happiness Advantage / Gratitude Project. Here is a PDF of her presentation: happiness-advantage%2fgratitude

Mary started the session by sharing the following Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, which inspired the work that Mary does with her students. I have this Ted Talk under my Inspiration pages on Balance and Happiness, and I was so interested to see how Mary intentionally put his message into action in her classroom.





A key point that Shawn Achor makes: our external world does not predict our happiness.

There is a myth out there: “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I am more successful, I will be happy.” But all this means is that happiness will always be elusive, and the target will always shift. As soon as we reach a goal, we will set a higher goal, and therefore, happiness will always be something that seems out of reach if we have linked it to ‘success’ and reaching a goal.

So, Shawn Achor suggests that we can retrain ourselves to create ripples of positivity in our lives, as 90% of our longterm happiness is predicted by the way our brain processes the world. Also, when we are happy, our brains are ready to learn.


Achor provides the following list of practices that we can put into place for 21 days to retrain our brain to be positive:

  • 3 gratitudes each day
  • journaling about a positive experience in the last 24 hours
  • exercise
  • meditation
  • conscious acts of kindness

With regards to gratitudes, the practice is intended to help us scan the world for the positives, not the negatives. The gratitudes we think about should be specific and different. We won’t say that we are grateful for our family or good health every day. Instead, we will focus on small things in our life that we are grateful for. The act of writing it down is naming and noticing it. The act of sharing it with others helps to give it more life. In Mary’s class, she asks students to write “I am grateful for _________ because _________”.


Mary also has students journal about a positive experience from the last 24 hours. In our session, there were many of us who had participated in an amazing “Rickshaw Rally” on Saturday, but Mary said to find something that was positive about Sunday instead. The point isn’t the big moments that ‘wow’ us, but instead focusing in on small positive moments in our life. Journaling about it allows our brain to relive that experience.

And finally, rather than random acts of kindness, like opening a door for someone or helping someone when we encounter a situation throughout the day, the final piece is to make a plan to conscious think of a kind act that will bring someone else happiness.