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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

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

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

An Attitude of Gratitude

Posted by Monica Lucey on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 @ 11:30 AM

This year, the Fifth and Sixth Grade classes are embarking on a study of gratitude.  Our hope is that our students will come out of the Fifth and Sixth Grade with a perspective that enables them to not take what they are given in life for granted, but rather to be grateful for all that they do have.  

Attitude of Grattitude resized 600

To begin this study, Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton was assigned for summer reading.  We have already started dissecting Soul Surfer and talking about how life changed for Bethany after her arm was bitten off by a shark.  As an up-and-coming professional surfer, this would have been the chance for her to quit, give up and throw in the towel.  Instead, she came back stronger and better than ever and learned to surf with only one arm.

The boys have been thinking about what it would be like to lose a limb and not be able to do the activities that they love so much, and how they would have to adapt.  They have characterized Bethany as brave, strong and inspirational given her struggles after her accident.  They have also begun to think about things in their lives that they are grateful for.  

Our bulletin board by the Fifth and Sixth Grade classrooms is entitled “Be grateful for small things, big things and everything in-between,” a quote by Mandy Hale.  The boys have already had their photos taken with signs stating things they are grateful for.  An impressive number of boys are grateful for the opportunity to get a good education at Hillside and for their families for sending them here.  Others are grateful for “…being adopted by my parents,” “… my parents for letting me play sports,” and “life!”  

As we foster our Attitude of Gratitude this year, we will be reading articles, short stories and books about people who have overcome troubles and are ultimately inspiring to others.  Most notably, our first book will be Believe: The Victorious Story of Eric LeGrand, a book about the Rutgers football player who was paralyzed and is learning to walk again.  Please stop by the Fifth and Sixth Grade hallway and check out what the boys are grateful for this year!  

Tags: Boarding School, Project-Based Learning, Reading

5 Ways to Get Your Son Reading

Posted by Kari Dalane on Thu, Feb 06, 2014 @ 11:58 PM

Boy readingReading is not only enjoyable -- it also develops skills that help young people to be successful. The ability to read well is crucial to pursuing any discipline in academics.  A reading habit also exposes us to new ideas and develops our ability to think analytically.  Reading fiction can help expand our imaginations and improve our ability to empathize with others.  Considering all of the benefits, do you wish your son read more?  Below are five ways to turn him into a lifelong reader.

1.  Let him follow his interests.

Reading can be tedious and boring for anyone if the book does not appeal to the reader.  Let your son’s interests guide his reading choices.  Does he love sports?  Look for fiction and nonfiction books about his favorite sport.  Does he love technology?  There are great nonfiction books, magazines, and blogs that feature insightful articles on this topic.

2.  Expand your definition of what counts as reading.

Reading a comic book or magazine is still reading.  It is still developing the reader’s imagination and reading comprehension skills as well as exposing him to new words and ideas.  It is important for young people to love and pursue the act of reading.  Interest in more demanding literature will likely develop in time, but it will never develop if your son does not start loving to read. A comic book or magazine could serve as the gateway to more complex and sophisticated literature.

3.  Read with him.

You can still read aloud with your son!  Choose a book you think you and your son would both enjoy and take turns reading to each other.  Choose a set time each day or week to do this so you can establish it as a routine, especially during the summer months when your son is not attending school.  Alternatively, try an audiobook.  Listen to it together when you are at home or in the car.  Reading with your son will give you something to bond over and discuss.  It will also help develop your son’s excitement about books.

4.  Set an example.

Does your son ever see you reading?  Do you ever pick up a book, magazine, or newspaper in front of him?  Do you talk to your son about what you are reading and ask him about what he is reading?  Make sure he sees that you value reading; he will be more likely to value it himself.

5.  Check out these resources about boys and reading.

For more information on boys and reading, check out  This site is maintained by author Jon Scieszka, and contains a wealth of information and reading suggestions. Another great resource for reading suggestions is

Finally, encourage your son to come to the library!  I’d be happy to help him find his next great read. Download some suggestions, below.


Titles to Get Your  Son Reading


Tags: Boarding School, Reading

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