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Project-based Learning: The Invention Convention

Posted by Lee Greener on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 @ 11:29 AM

Invention Convention resized 600Project-based learning is a cornerstone of independent and boarding schools. According to Edutopia project based learning is "is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge." The Invention Convention project that kicked off this week in our Fifth and Sixth grade classrooms exemplifies this type of learning. It also enables students to hone various skills across multiple subjects. This is the second time the Invention Convention has taken place at Hillside and Ms. Sexton explains how it works.

The boys in Monica Lucey's and Hilary Sexton's class are embarking on a seven-week project. The theme in the Fifth and Sixth grade this year is the attitude of gratitude. In keeping with the theme, the boys have to come up with a list of problems that the world is facing today and find a way to help. They will then come up with an invention that helps the problem. They started off watching videos that show children making inventions to help the environment, people or themselves.  They then brainstormed problems that occur in the world. The boys came up with things like poverty, hunger, lack of clean drinking water and homelessness. Over the next few weeks the boys will pick one idea and narrow it down from there.  They will research how other people have helped their cause. The boys will then create a prototype of their invention. At the end of the seven weeks, the boys will present their inventions for the entire community to view.

Through this project the boys focus on selflessness. They learn what it means to give back to people in need. The boys are able to spend two consecutive periods a week working on making the world a better place. In Reading class the boys are reading the book Pay It Forward. In this book, a young boy comes up with the idea of giving back without asking for compensation. All he asks of the people he helps is that they "pay it forward." The boys understand that what they are doing in the invention convention is in keeping with this concept. They are researching problems and finding a way to fix them or alleviate them. In essence the boys are truly paying it forward. 

The boys are also practicing many skills while conducting this project. For example, they are learning to manage their schedule. With only two class periods a week to work on the project, the boys need to learn to budget their time. They are also working on their research and writing skills. They are researching their topics to better understand the needs involved. They will also have a writing piece that goes along with the invention. Finally, the boys will present their inventions. For Middle School boys, presenting in front of their teachers and peers can be daunting. The boys will fine tune their public speaking skills and present their final projects in front of a group. 

The project is designed to be educational and engaging. A lot of hard work goes into these inventions. The Invention Convention should be a lot of fun and powerfully convey the theme of gratitude. 


Tags: Boarding School, Project-Based Learning, Empowering Boys, Science, Reading

How to Pick Your Secondary School: Young Alums Speak Out

Posted by Lee Greener on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 @ 09:44 AM

Secondary School Handbook Pic resized 600March 10th marks a very exciting day for prospective students hoping to go to boarding school. Decisions have been made and offers are extended. We asked our young alums what their advice would be when picking a school to help the Hillside Class of 2015:

"My one piece of advice for students would be to choose the school where they feel the most at home. When I toured, I knew the second I got back into my car that it was the place for me. Everyone was friendly and the campus was great. It felt right.” - Dennis Cesana ’13 at Kimball Union Academy

“The best advice I can give to pick the right school is to go where people want you and go where you know people will support you. I feel like my decision to go to Brooks was the best I have made in my life. I love it at Brooks and the people are awesome.” - Isaiah Godwin ’14 at Brooks School

“Never rule any one school out until you are sure, because upon revisiting some schools you may change your mind.” - Alex Fay ’13 at The Williston Northampton School

"My advice when picking your secondary school is simply to go with where you feel the most comfortable, both socially and academically. You're going to spend a lot of time there so it should be a place where you want to be and will help you reach your goals. Visit all the schools and really get that feel before choosing somewhere because you never know until you visit, which school fits you best.” - Austrian Robinson ’12 at Trinity Pawling School

"Think about your academic and social preferences, and note that the size of a school will play a big part in how well you operate within it” - Alex Rodde ‘12 at Dublin School

"Try to identify the schools that are potentially the best fit for you, academically, sports-wise, size and structure. Visit the potential schools, preferably when students are there and ask lots of questions. Also try to get a feel for each one in terms of how welcoming and comfortable they feel. When I visited Hebron, I felt welcomed.” Dylan Breau ‘14 at Hebron Academy

"Attempt to picture yourself at that specific school, if you can not see yourself at that particular school it might not be the best option for you.” - Colin McCaughey ’13 at St. Paul’s School

"When picking a school make sure you really want to go, and if you are looking to play a sport at the varsity level, make sure to know what to expect.” - John Hunt ’14 at Westminster School

“The most important aspect is to find a place where you fit in temperamentally. It's easy to research academic and extracurricular opportunities through web search, but finding an environment that will be especially conducive to happy, healthy learning on your part takes an extra effort and so is more rewarding in the end (make use of revisit days!).” – Matthew Chang ’12 at Middlesex School

"My one piece of advice would be to just follow your heart. There is going to be the school that your parents like the most and most likely you are going to find a different school to be your favorite. But you need to realize that the place you choose is your home for the next three or four years. My gut feeling was St. Mark's and I couldn't be happier with the decision I made.” Josh Loveridge ’13 at St. Mark’s School

“Use the broken leg test. Ask yourself, if you get hurt and will be unable to play your sport will you still be happy with your choice?” - Nick Schofield ’14 at The Williston Northampton School

“If you can, revisit your top two choices.” - Jesse Lee ’13 at Berkshire School

“What really helped me was having an idea of what I was looking for in a school. Ask yourself questions like: "Will I be happy here?" and "Can I learn here?” The answers really helped me figure out what I wanted and what I needed in a school.” Rory Csaplar ’13 at Eagle Hill School

"Choose the school that you see yourself being comfortable in. I think the size of the school is really important, tt determines how well the school fits us and how well we will fit within it. It does not matter, in my opinion, where one ends up at, how you take advantage of what the school offers is what is important.” - Huanshuo “John” Rao ’14 at Westminster School

Tags: Boarding School, Alumni, Admission Process, Tips & Strategies, Junior Boarding School

Cross-disciplinary Collaboration: A Great Challenge for Students

Posted by Kari Dalane on Tue, Mar 03, 2015 @ 08:39 AM
Cross Collaboration

Independent schools, and especially boarding schools, have a mission to prepare their student for college and beyond. An example of this is the growth of multi-disciplinary programs, case study formats, and team projects that have become increasingly common in college, graduate school, and the business world. As the world becomes complex in terms of technology, regulation, and globalism, children and adults must be able to broaden their perspectives and integrate a wide range of information.

At Hillside, all of the Ninth Grade classes have undertaken a complex cross-disciplinary final project focusing on controversial topics in nutrition.  Their science teachers, English teachers, and the librarian have collaborated to lay the foundation for their work.  Their science teachers (Mr. Andersen and Mr. Moulton) have taught the students the necessary vocabulary and content knowledge for them to understand the issues at stake. Their English teachers (Mr. MacDonald, Ms. Dalane, Mr. Wagoner, and Mr. Paul) have worked with the students to help them organize and write a solid paper.  The librarian (also Ms. Dalane) has focused on teaching students how to evaluate sources, especially how to identify when sources are biased, and how to create a Works Cited page using Noodletools.  

Students have chosen topics such as the benefits and drawbacks of organic foods, factory farming, health supplements, and energy drinks.  These topics are difficult to research because there are many competing claims.  The goal is for students to develop a broad understanding of both sides of their chosen topic and then form an opinion they can defend well.  Boys have had class time and homework assignments leading up to the final due date for the paper.  Their grade will count as both their English and science final exam, so there is reason to work hard!

Hillside's interdisciplinary projects help students to improve their critical thinking by looking at a problem from multiple perspectives. We feel this prepares them for the real world -- after all, problems we face on a day-to-day basis are not neatly divided into disciplines like English, history, science, and math.  The real world is messier than that!  Boys are also practicing their time management skills -- they must keep track of all of the different aspects of this project to stay on track and meet the deadlines.

Tags: Boarding School, Writing, Project-Based Learning, Science, Reading

Where Kids Are Still Kids: A Memoir by Colin Binswanger '15

Posted by Lee Greener on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 @ 11:00 AM
Student Speaker Series Colin '15Students have the opportunity to share their work with our community during Student Speaker Series lunch programs. Mr. Paul's ninth grade English class was given a memoir writing assignment with a focus on adding thoughts and feelings to bring an event to life and make it meaningful. Colin Binswanger '15 wrote the following about a time when he was 10 years old at Chuck E. Cheese.

We went to Chuck E. Cheese’s for my sister's birthday. I smelled the familiar scent of overpriced pizzas disregarded upon the same crowded tables, and saw young and innocent faces beaming with joy from cherubic cheeks. Many of them bounded towards the ski-ball lanes, eager to earn the paper currency that was needed to claim their winnings. It was the sight of these children that told me that throughout all of these years and the many times I'd visited, a certain purple clad mouse was still steadily maintaining his original course.

The dozens of brands of candy were the same as they had been years ago, being stuffed greedily into the mouths of kindergartners and elementary schoolers as they walked out the same glass doors, and the animatronics were the same animatronics, the same glassy eyes and the same slightly worn clothes seeming to complement their restricted movement, and splayed in front of them were the same dozens of half-eaten pizza crusts and candy wrappers. Beyond the abandoned food, there were the same sneakers shoved hurriedly into cubby holes, the same dried boogers, the torn tickets, and forgotten possessions of previous visitors to this nostalgic establishment. I looked on to the intertwining crawl space to the left of the entrance. Many younger visitors often spent their last ten or twenty minutes within the tunnels, almost in a ritualistic manner. Beneath the crawl space, I jumped out and startled my sister and her friends at the bottom of the exit slide, and they then cried out, rushed back to the entrance, and scrambled back into the maze of multicolored tubes. There was no difference in the reaction that these girls had to the girls from my past visits that were a part of the crystal waters of memory.

I then recalled a party herein four years ago, when I too was engulfed by the bright flashing lights, golden tokens, and prizes of sizes both large and small. Once I’d placed my present on the table, I rushed off to cater to my immediate desires. I rode across the snow bound perils of Arctic Thunder, did battle against the Insectoid army in Galaga, fought back against the forces of Skynet in Terminator Salvation, and smacked a bright green air hockey puck with dozens of scratches and dents serving as a testament to its years of service. Our party was then summoned to feast on a myriad of pizzas, all of which we thoroughly enjoyed even though cheese was the general favorite, which was of course appropriate for our age. Chuck E. Cheese and his merry band themselves even played a tune for us, a lighthearted prelude for the troubling event to come.

After we’d finished eating, we all ventured forth to the Active Zone. At the time it had far fewer scratches, dried mucus, and signs of disrepair. As I crawled inside I felt the firmness of the plastic and metal nuts and bolts that held it together, smelled the sweat and farts of children who were either still inside or had already left, and heard the sounds of youthful laughter and the padding of hands and knees. However, another sound suddenly pierced the usual tumult, the sound of a child in distress as it reverberated throughout the tunnels. Our group headed towards the source of the sound and found a bawling boy about our age who happened to be a bit on the heavy side, to say the least, and had gotten stuck in the exit slide, blocking the main exit. All of us then backtracked and exited through the entrance to the Active Zone and were then hurriedly rushed out. The last I ever saw of that boy was when two men were removing the plastic tubing to get him out as he continued to cry at the top of his lungs while his mother tried desperately to calm him down. I was then pulled back to the present day as I heard my mother call to me that we were leaving and to round up the remaining children.

As we left, I saw the look of sorrow on my sister's face, for she knew that she was returning to the confinement of rules. In that moment I realized that I would not allow myself to become a complacent animatronic, worn and disregarded. I would choose to live my life as a challenge to overcome, and once I had bested it, I would know true victory.

Tags: Boarding School, Writing, Empowering Boys, Reading

The Season of Giving Is Year-Round at Boarding Schools

Posted by William Bullard on Fri, Dec 12, 2014 @ 02:30 PM

Operation Christmas ChildAs we enter the most sacred and celebrated time of year, it is appropriate to give thanks for all we have received in 2014, and think ahead to the exciting times that lie ahead in 2015. The holiday season brings out the best in most of us, as we have time to reflect after the very hectic period from the start of school through the holiday break. This is also a time to think about loved ones, buy presents for them, and ideally to think more globally about the less fortunate than those of us in the independent school world.

One of the most powerful aspects of independent schools, and boarding schools in particular, is that the concept and actions of giving are not seasonal. Schools like Hillside and hundreds of others teach and model “giving back” throughout the year. It is in the DNA of boarding schools, where the students are more affected by the cultural environment due to their 24/7 experience, to speak and act about the importance of community and sharing our good fortune.  At Hillside, this can mean sitting with or singing to senior citizens, packing boxes for a local library, making toys for African children, or cleaning up a community area. Every other boarding school has similar projects and goals, all of which are truly Win-Win; they not only enhance the lives of the recipient, but also teach valuable lessons to young people still wrestling with their place in the world.

While the holidays are formally the season of giving, there are opportunities to reach out throughout the year. The spirit of helping others is one gift that keeps giving in the boarding school world.

Happy holidays from Hillside!

Tags: Boarding School, Community, Well-Rounded Young Man, Community Service, Service Learning

The Power of a Positive Attitude

Posted by Lee Greener on Mon, Nov 24, 2014 @ 10:50 AM

Last week, we celebrated Thanksgiving as a community with our Thanksgiving Chapel Service and Dinner. While we enjoy the break, this holiday is a chance for us to reflect on the service last week and Peter Wagoner’s, Director of Secondary School Placement Emeritus and English, words regarding attitude. For those of you who may have missed it, we are proud to feature his words in this week’s blog.

peter wag resized 600“As we pause in our daily tasks to gather and to celebrate Thanksgiving, it is a time to count our blessings. It would be easy to see the glass half empty, but sometimes we need to see the glass half full and accept what is in front of us.

About a year and a half ago, I had an experience which gave me a different lens to view my life. I awoke in the recovery room of New England Baptist Hospital, groggy from the anesthesia of having my hip replaced for the second time. My surgeon was sitting in a chair across from my bed and he quietly told me what I would have to do in my recovery if I ever hoped to walk without a limp and be pain free. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but through my grogginess I was brought back to a very old prayer which I had learned many years ago. It is a simple prayer, which goes, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When I first heard this prayer, I am not sure I understood what serenity was or even how to achieve it. As we sit here in this space, in a school community which nurtures and supports us, perhaps it is a good time to reflect and to count our blessings. There is much in our world that I have no control over, but I can live each day the best I know how and strive to do the next right thing.

It is not so tough for any of you to come up with things you cannot change. You may say you have to take French or Spanish, learn English and a host of other subjects. You cannot change the fact, that as a boarder, you have get along with your dorm mates. If you’re tall, you cannot decide you want to be shorter. It is pretty easy to think of things or stuff in our lives we cannot change.

And what about the second line in my prayer? To seek “the courage to change the things I can.” If I can look at a problem with a positive attitude, then Math or Science or even cross-country can be more tolerable. If you look for the good in your classmates, maybe you will be, like me, constantly amazed at how unique and special people truly are.  What is really important here is your attitude; it is attitude that makes the difference. As I think of the last line of the quote and realize it really does take wisdom to know what we can change and what we cannot.  It all is a matter of attitude.

I would like to leave you with the words of Charles Swindoll who wrote, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church, a home or a school. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 120% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

Each of us is searching for the right path.  None of us can always know where that path leads, but for me I am guided by these words, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” … and having a positive attitude gives me a pretty good way to deal with each and every day as it unfolds. And for that I am thankful."

Tags: Boarding School, Residential Life, Community

Living and Learning in a Boarding Environment

Posted by William Bullard on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 @ 01:06 PM


The boarding experience is unique for every student, especially boarders. At Hillside and most other boarding schools, there is a broad range of opportunities that create a deep bond among dorm mates and parents that often lasts a lifetime.

Birthday with Friends!Boarding schools can never replace a student’s homes, but they can provide a time-tested blend of love, discipline, hard work, responsibility and fun. And the Hillside environment offers a compelling element that even the warmest home can’t replicate: being a member of a large extended family and learning to share, work together, create, and disagree respectfully. Focusing on others’ needs rather their own can be difficult for adolescents, and Hillside and other schools get them started in this direction. It is very common for older students to act as guides, taking a younger housemate under their wing and helping him or her get through difficult periods, especially early in the year.

Ironically, this community focus can mask a key fact: one of the most important characteristics students gain from boarding is independence. While learning to live, work and play side-by-side with their friends, teachers, coaches and dorm parents, each individual must also master the art of living on his own.

The residential philosophy of Hillside and many other schools is to build a foundation that prepares the boarders for life in their future communities. In some cases, this is very basic - house parents help their young charges with hygiene, manners, sleep, timeliness and eating right. There is also a deeper education; reading social cues, appropriate conduct, awareness of others, conflict resolution, cooperation and teamwork. It’s important to clean up your dishes not just as a chore but also as a commitment to your dorm mates. At Hillside, the students mature and grow under the watchful eye of house parents, all of whom are teachers, coaches or administrators who “get” boys and are fully invested in their success.

In a world of trade-offs, boarding students gain a much broader perspective to guide their future lives due to the richness of their residential experience.

Tags: Boarding School, Residential Life, Admission Process, Community, Empowering Boys, Well-Rounded Young Man

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Filling Out Your Financial Aid Application

Posted by Lee Greener on Fri, Nov 07, 2014 @ 10:21 AM

Financial AidAs School and Student Services (SSS) by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) releases the 2015-2016 Parents' Financial Statement (PFS) this week, we thought we would share the top mistakes to avoid when you fill out financial aid forms. The financial aid application is just as important to many families as the school's admission application. As SSS states, "the PFS is the gateway to finacial aid from the nation's leading private and independent schools. We estimate the amount you can contribute to school expenses and forward that estimate to the schools where you're applying." SSS makes it easy for families to apply to multiple schools and share their financial information. As you fill out the PFS this year be sure to avoid:

1. Missing the deadlines. Adhere to deadlines. Many schools require the PFS to be submitted in January or February. Every school is different and may have different deadlines. Be sure to know the deadlines for each school you are applying to.

2. Not having the correct information when filling out the PFS. Have your tax returns with you when filling out the PFS. The PFS draws information directly from your family's tax returns. Use the previous year's tax returns to fill out the information and then update it accordingly when you receive your tax returns for the current year.

3. Not filing your tax returns with SSS and schools. Be sure to send your returns to both SSS and each school. Providing your tax returns to SSS is not enough; you need to send copies to each school your child is applying to. When the Financial Aid Committee meets, they will use the information from SSS as well as these returns to make an informed decision about your family's financial aid package.

4. If you have extenuating circumstances regarding your family's financial standing, include it in a letter to each Admission Office. More information is always preferable to less. The more informed the Financial Aid Committee is on your familys financial standing, the better.

5. Not asking questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions. In every Admission Office there is always someone happy to help walk you through the PFS. We encourage you to ask questions and find out who that person is so you are able to fill out the PFS honestly and accurately.

For more tips on financial aid, visit our blog from last November: Financial Aid: 8 Tips for Affording Boarding or Independent Schools or call the Admission Office. We are always here to help you as you navigate the school application and financial aid process.



Tags: Boarding School, Admission Process, Tips & Strategies

Hillside Values on the Farm

Posted by William Bullard on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 @ 01:29 PM

Student and baby goatA farm has been a mainstay of Hillside since our founding in 1901. And while it's easy to see how spending time with cuddly and interesting animals such as baby goats, lambs, and alpacas would be fun and fulfilling for the boys, there’s more to the story. The Farm’s crucial role in the development of Hillside is also significantly based on the hard work of its managers and the students. The School relied heavily on farming to survive the early years; the older boys worked long hours, reaping significant income for the eggs, poultry and vegetables. For the move to Marlborough in 1927, a working farm was a primary requirement for both economic and cultural reasons.

That combination of hard work, compassion and fun on the Farm is a microcosm of Hillside’s broader experience. Every boy spends four mornings throughout the school year on “Farm Hard work on the FarmImmersion.” In this program, the students follow nature’s path, planting or harvesting as needed, and handling other chores from feeding the animals to mucking stalls. They get to know the animals and rejoice when babies are born, helping to care for and cuddle young goats, lambs, ducklings, polt (baby turkeys), calves and piglets (cuddling optional!).

The Farm is a very democratic environment. Many boys who aren’t yet classroom whizzes or star athletes are “horse whisperers” with a unique talent to connect with an animal, greatly enhancing that boy’s self-confidence. Boys who always feel rushed and disorganized often reach a state of calm in the presence of these animals, and likewise gain their trust. And virtually every student feels a sense of fulfillment after a successful farm project has helped the Hillside community, our CSA customers, or individual animals.

Compassion, determination and hard work, respect for the animals and environment, and fun make the Farm an integral part of the Hillside environment.

Tags: Boarding School, Community, Empowering Boys, Well-Rounded Young Man, Community Service

Top 5 Things Middle School Boys Should Know How to Do in Their Library

Posted by Kari Dalane on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 @ 01:00 PM

1. How To Collaborate
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Libraries are much more than a place to find books.  Boys at Hillside have access to our collection of books, of course, but another vital purpose of the library is to provide a place for collaboration.  Learning to work well with others is one of the most important skills we can help our boys develop.  Our library now has new collaboration tables that allow groups to project up to shared screens.



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2. How To Find and Navigate the Library Website


Every library website has a wealth of information on it.  From the newest books added to the library to video tutorials covering information literacy skills, our website keeps our library open 24/7.


3. How To Access and Use the Library Databases

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Our databases are great places to find information.  The databases we have access to at Hillside provide trustworthy, high-quality information on a wide variety of topics. Examples include Gale Biography in Context, World Book Student, and Britannica Middle School Edition.  Students should know how to locate databases, choose an appropriate database, search in a database, and cite sources found in a database.  Databases are a great place to start looking for information rather than immediately turning to Google.

4. How To Search For and find books

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Searching for and finding books is still an important skill in the library.  We have nearly 5,000 titles on our shelves and while it’s fun to browse, if you are looking for something specific, it is important to know how to search the library catalog and find call numbers. Boys should also know how to use OverDrive.  All students with parental permission have access to over 25,000 ebooks, audiobooks, and videos through this digital library.  We owe a special thanks to Marlborough Public Library for providing our boys access to OverDrive.

5. How to ask for help  

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It’s great to know how to do things and become more independent.  However, there is always going to be something new to figure out.  Asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.  And at Hillside, that’s what Ms. Dalane is there for!

Tags: Boarding School, Community, Technology, Empowering Boys, Tips & Strategies, Reading

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