Habitats and Biomimicry: Designing Through Nature. Harborlight Experience Week

Harborlight Montessori’s Experience Week Series continued last week with two amazing offerings.  Students in Grades 4-6 were invited to participate in Habitats and Biomimicry: Designing Through Nature.

Course Description:

“This course draws on the principles of Biomimicry to explore different habitats, their characteristics and the organisms that live in them. Exploring the greater North Shore Trustees properties, students study how animal shelter themselves in each system through careful observation, note-taking, sketching and photography to determine how the structure of each ‘house’ is informed by the nature of the environment and apply this knowledge through field work to design and build models of human habitats to a specific environment, considering all the elements that may affect design. They will complete this course with an exercise in testing and critiquing their models.”

Here is a revue of the week.

 Here is a brief overview of our daily trips and essential guiding questions that will frame our key lessons:
Local Watershed – Kelleher Pond – Cove Park – Dane Street Beach/ Build a River Model
Essential Questions
What is a Watershed? What is a habitat? How do animals adapt?
Ipswich River – Bradley Palmer State Park – view Beaver dams / Build a River Model
Essential Questions
How do plants and animals interact with their environment? How do animals change their environment?
Bass River – Shoe Pond – Balch House/ Build a Habitat with Materials Beavers Use
Essential Questions
What are human impacts to rivers and land over time? How do humans change the environment? How does the environment change human habitat?
Peabody Essex Museum : Art and the Environment/
Tell the Story of A River through Art / Silk Screen Artist Special Guest Visit from Susan Quateman
Essential Questions
How do we use art and models to tell a story? How can we persuade others in their thinking through art? How can we communicate environmental messages?
Tell the Story of A River Through Art. Silkscreen Art Making 
PARENTS WELCOME AT 2:30-3:00 p.m. for an “open studio” of our silkscreens.
Essential Questions
How do we use art and models to tell a story? How can we persuade others in their thinking through art? How can we communicate environmental messages?

Monday: Kelleher Pond

Today, we had a fun morning circle to kick off our week by playing some community building games. Then, we launched into our questions for the day: What is a watershed? What animals build their habitats around our local rivers? We examined a map of our local watershed and took a walk to Kelleher pond, where we tested the salinity of the water and collected water samples. Students caught fish, invertebrates, and insects in nets, and we brought them back to our science lab. We shared some funny moments, like when students named the fish we caught “Billy Bob.” After lunch, the whole group was fascinated by classifying the invertebrates, worms, and even fish that we caught. For example, we looked closely at a planarian and discovered its eyespots. We even took a picture through the microscope. Check out our photo album from day one (on our bulletin board), and you can download images there! We had a lot of fun and even helped the environment by collecting trash. Tomorrow, we will follow the course of a river to the sea and visit the Ipswich River to look for beaver dams.

Tuesday: Ipswich River Wildlife and Bradley Palmer

Today was a true field day–we were outside the whole day! At morning circle, we introduced our essential question of the day: How do plants and animals interact with their environment, and how do they change their environment?

After a brief discussion, we headed down to Dane Street Beach, tracking the course of the Lawrence Brook along the way. When we reached the mouth of the river and saw where it was let into the sea. This led to a discussion about the impact humans have had on the river; while they have rerouted it to being largely an underground river, much of the life in the river has been diminished or extinguished altogether. We also identified where the cut bank and the point bank of the river were, applying the nomenclature that we learned earlier in the day.

Next, we headed to the Mass Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, where we hiked for 2 hours and spotted many interesting animals and plants, including: mallard ducks, red-winged blackbirds, snakes, turtles, black capped chickadees, geese, worms, skunk cabbage and duckweed. We even found a beaver lodge on the trail, and since beavers are protected, we had to carefully walk around it and try not to disturb it in any way. Observing all of the animals and plants led to many interesting discussions about types of relationships: parasitic, mutualistic, and symbiotic.

After a nice lunch at the wildlife sanctuary, we headed to Bradley Palmer State Park, where we caught and observed some more invertebrates. A young fisherman shared his catch with us and we had the chance to see a trout up close. One of the highlights of our hike at Bradley Palmer was finding a snake den! We finished up the day with a little recess back at the Dane St. Beach playground.

It was such an enriching day and, on the bus on the way back to school, one of the students was overheard saying, “We already have so many good memories, and it’s only day two!” This warmed the hearts of all of the teachers, and we cannot wait for our field trip tomorrow.

Wednesday: Bass River

Today, our big questions of the day were:

What are human impacts to rivers and land over time?
How do humans change the environment?
How does the environment change human habitat?

After morning circle, journaling and discussion, we headed over to the Bass River for a historical tour with Lucy Keller of Historic Beverly. As we spoke about the way humans settled the area, we came to realize that the river had undergone major changes with the  spread of corn mills and industrialization of the area , leading eventually to an entire commercial district. The area around the Cummings Center is one of the oldest continuously commercial places in America.

Students had a chance to journal after lunch and then we went to a mud flat, where we harvested clay, found mollusks and searched the water for life. Many students were surprised that there were not many bass in the bass river, largely due to the impact humans have had on it.

Thursday: Peabody Essex Museum.  Biomimicry and Silk Painting

Today, we had another exciting day. We started off talking about biomimicry and the wisdom that can be found in looking to Mother Nature for solutions to problems, with her billions of years of experimentation and innovation. Students were then given the task of building their own model of a shelter using only the materials beavers use: clay, stones, and wood.

We then prepared the students for a scavenger hunt at the Peabody Essex museum. They needed to search for information like which part of a camel is used as a model for the design of a building in the desert. (Answer: nostril). After the biomimicry exhibit, we headed to the Nature’s Nation exhibit, where we explored the relationship between art and the environment, including messages about awareness and advocacy. We ended the visit by having a moment of silent observation in front of the Snake River performance at Standing Rock, where art and environmental advocacy came together so beautifully.

After lunch and recess, we enjoyed a visit from Susan Quateman, silk painter, who presented several of her pieces to us and then let us try our hand at silk painting.

Friday: Silk scarf painting, River Model, Ice cream Party

It was an absolute pleasure to teach and learn together with all of your children this week. On Friday morning, we finished up our silk scarves. The children chose ecological themes, the story of their experience week, or the story of the river to paint onto their scarf. They are now on exhibit in the front lobby until Friday, May 3, at which point, you may take them home. Please iron the scarves to set the paint in with heat. Otherwise, the paint will run if the scarves become wet.

We also went outside and built a river model, complete with all of the parts of the river that we learned, including the source, the banks, the mouth, etc. The students were really excited to watch the water from the hose do its work carving out a river bed.

In the afternoon, we had an ice cream party and shared what our favorite parts of the week were. Thanks to all who came out and enjoyed the exhibit of our hand-painted silk scarves and shelters made out of natural materials beavers use to do their own architecture.

It was a great week, and I think all of our work was also a nice connection to Earth Day!

































































































































For more information about Harborlight Montessori and our infant/toddler, preschool, elementary, or middle school programs, please make an appointment to visit our Beverly, MA campus. You can contact us here 


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