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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

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

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

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

Homework Heroes: Empowering Students Through Homework

Posted by Lee Greener on Fri, Sep 26, 2014 @ 01:21 PM

We see everyday in comic books and movies heroes displaying signs of courage during times of adversity. Students in Mr. Kinney’s math classes who display those same characteristics in real-life by completing their homework on time for an entire month straight, earn the esteemed title of “Homework Hero.” This is just one way teachers at Hillside are trying to motivate students to complete their homework and reward their efforts.

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It is important for students to complete homework for a variety of reasons. It helps reinforce skills, concepts, and information learned in class. Independence and self-discipline is fostered through doing homework. Nowadays, classes can be “flipped” and lessons can be taught via homework. It is a vital part of school in which many successes are determined by students’ efforts in completing it.

Students who are hailed as “Homework Heroes” in Mr. Kinney’s classes will spin a wheel each month to determine their reward. Rewards range from bonus points on a test to being the teacher for a class. The wheel is currently being created by the ninth grade Algebra I class as part of a Probability unit. Groups proposed different ideas for the wheel, and one groups idea was voted on by the class as the winner. The entire class will build the wheel together within the next week.

Speaking of the ninth grade Algebra I class, they are the only class in which all of the students have completed their homework on time. Overall, close to 80% of Mr. Kinney’s students are still on the Homework Heroes board as they head into the last week of September. It is exciting to see so many students being accountable for their homework and excited about it!

Tags: Boarding School, Math, Project-Based Learning, Empowering Boys

Empowering Middle School Boys

Posted by Hank Bryant on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 @ 12:56 PM

Empowering boys

Fostering Student Empowerment

Empowerment requires the development of confidence, self-efficacy, and self-esteem.  This is especially important when educating middle school boys because these qualities are essential to becoming successful young adults. Self-efficacy helps our boys to believe in their own ability to be successful and to have an impact on their world.  This will, in turn, help them to become lifelong learners and creators of positive change within their communities. 

Debunking "Banking Education"

I am passionate about empowering our students because of one of the trends that has been developing in schools:  "banking education" (Freire), whereby the student is the recipient of information and the teacher is the giver of knowledge.  This type of education, also referred to as "traditional education," stunts a student's ability to develop necessary skills such as critical thinking, independent thinking, and creativity.  

As part of my Masters in Education program at the University of Miami in Ohio, one requirement is to engage our communities to improve the quality of our environment. My focus is on integrating inquiry-based environmental projects into my classroom curriculum to foster student empowerment. I strive to design lessons that allow students to make their own choices, advocate for themselves, create projects, and develop the skills and confidence necessary for growth, maturation, and ultimately, that empowerment.

Community Engagement Projects

Thus far, my students have engaged in two large community action projects. The fifth and sixth grade students developed a recycling project for the Hillside School community. They surveyed classrooms, gathered data, drew up graphs, created a PowerPoint presentation, and designed a website in order to educate the community about recycling and the effect of their actions on the community. They presented all of this information to the school during a lunch program and received great feedback.

The second project was done by the seventh graders. They focused on electricity usage and conservation in our community. Similar to the fifth and sixth graders, they surveyed Hillside, collected data, and presented this data in the form of graphs, a PowerPoint presentation, a movie, and a website, all of which was presented during a lunch program.

The Findings

Regarding my master plan of increasing feelings of empowerment, in both cases the students took a pre-project and post-project questionnaire. In both cases the students demonstrated a statistically significant increase in their sense of empowerment. They not only learned a great deal and developed important skills, but they also gained confidence, self-efficacy, and  self-esteem.

With my empowerment model and the use of inquiry-based education, we can help reverse this trend and foster students who can think on their own, be autonomous, ask questions, and find answers.  We can support creativity and curiosity.  And we can create students who can go out into the world and be innovators.


 Download Community  Engagement Project Steps







Tags: Boarding School, Empowering Boys, Science

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