Learning from the Master

By Leslie Barr

This was my first Masterclass and I was thrilled that Westtown School supported my learning about conservation as it applies to my work as a biology teacher.   The class was titled “Dr. Jane Goodall Teaches Conservation.” I began the class in September 2017 and finished in February 2018. The course consisted of 29 video lessons, (mostly talks) given by Jane Goodall in a nice relaxing setting in the present time, with some archival footage of her work in the Gombe jungle in the 1960s.  In between there were opportunities to join online discussions from students around the world also taking the class.


Photo: Jane Goodall Institute

Jane was the first field scientist to go against the scientific views at the time, and showed that chimpanzees used tools and were omnivores, not strictly vegetarian.  Jane’s non-acceptance by the scientific community at the time was partially caused by her gender. There were not too many women scientists taken seriously in the 1960s and 1970s;  Jane was able to challenge the paradigm and soon people started to listen. To this day she is the only human that was accepted into chimpanzee society, as one of their tribe. No one else has had this type of insider access, and Jane is now recognized as a leader in the field.  People now have reaped the benefits of Jane’s work as she navigated the scientific climate and discussed, debated, and argued against those who did not support her.

I can’t help but think about other scientists who went against the grain and society took a while to come around to their ideas.  Galileo was not treated very well when he suggested that the planets did not evolve around the Earth, but rather they revolved around the sun.  When Stephen Hawking developed his theory of the origin of the universe, that was not wholefully accepted either. In the process of science, it often takes time for the other scientists and those who are fully ingrained in current doctrine to accept ideas that are not their own.

Jane’s class focused on the following topics:  her dreams of Africa, challenges she faced when she first started her research, chimpanzee behavior, chimpanzee development and learning, animal intelligence, chimps and humans, humans and the environment, threats to animals, animal cruelty, climate change, water, land, industrial agriculture, organic farming, food as activism, advocacy strategies, communication, opening a dialogue, the next generation, TACARE and global change, the Roots and Shoots Program, and reasons for hope.  

I agreed with Jane on most accounts, even though we come from very different scientific upbringings.  Since I started my career as a lab scientist, I recognize that she had some tough interactions with scientists at the beginning of her career, which was unfortunate.  The only things that I did not agree with was her self-reporting that she is not a scientist (I feel that she is) and her stance on GMOs. I feel that if she were to investigate more in the field of food and agriculture, she may change her stance.  I wish that she could have been in our biology classes last year, when our Westtown students debated the GMO issue.

It was energizing to have the interactions with the Hub in the online community, and to learn more from other participants.  One of the posts that I created was in response to living a zero-waste lifestyle: “I taught Environmental Science for a year, and in that year I learned a lot about changing my behaviors around the house. Now it’s second nature for us to buy second-hand clothing, wash our clothes less, take shorter showers, plant native plants in our garden, eat more food from local sources and grow a bigger garden. All of these changes adding up over the years my family and I do them makes a difference, especially when other friends and family members follow our lead. It all adds up to a bigger change for the better of the environment.”  I learned of a good book to read this summer, Jane’s Reason for Hope, and I can’t wait to see the documentary, Jane, which was in theaters last summer.  Since my family and I have a quest to visit every National Park, I discovered this foundation from our group conversation hub:  https://www.npca.org/ which will offer some volunteer opportunities for when my family and I have time to do those together.  If I teach intro biology or environmental science anytime in the future, I can reference this course. I recommend this course for anyone that has an interest in conservation and our planet, which should be everyone.

Posted in Action Based Education, Collaboration, Ecology, Global Education, Professional Development, Religious Life, Research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

ACTFL Reflection

by Amy Liermann

 I recently had the opportunity to attend the Annual ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.  This convention brings together over 7,000 language educators from various backgrounds, languages, and levels.  One of my favorite parts of walking through a language conference is hearing Mandarin, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and other languages being spoken among colleagues as if each step were a walk around the globe.  It is a reminder of the great diversity represented in my field of language education and unity among these educators that comes from a common purpose of teaching our PK-16 students how to communicate in a foreign language and, at the same time, respecting, understanding, and navigating through the target culture.  There were four workshops that both reminded me of the excellence of our Westtown Lower School education and Spanish program and inspired me to further explore and refine the language experience for our students. Continue reading

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When Roman Letters Meet Chinese “Characters”

By Bei Zhang and Jean Marí Hernández López

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) hosts an Annual Convention and World Languages Expo. This international event brings together more than 7,000 language educators from all languages, levels, and assignments. Its annual conventions are one of the best professional development experiences for language professionals since educators from all over the globe get the chance to share and learn from each other.

This year Westtown language teachers, Bei Zhang and Jean Marí Hernández López successfully presented a conference session called “Using Authentic Materials: A Teachers’ Guide” in Nashville, TN. ACTFLThe session explored the use of authentic materials in the language classroom in order to provide opportunities for learners to interact with the language as it is used by native speakers. They explored the benefits of authentic materials in support of the three modes of communication while connecting language with culture. They demonstrated a student-centered approach in the use of authentic media to facilitate active student participation and engagement.       Continue reading

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Inspiration at AAR and CSEE

By Brian Blackmore
Each fall, for the past 8 years, I have attended the American Academy of Religion’s (AAR) annual gathering, the largest conference of Religious Studies and Theology scholars in the world. This is a special time for me to find inspiration and new resources for my work, network with premiere thinkers in my field, reconnect with close friends and colleagues who teach at a distance in various institutions across the U.S., and hear about new findings in cutting edge research and scholarship. I feel like a kid in a candy shop at the AAR. This year, I attended sessions about Hindu-Christian inter-religious dialogue, the value of the Puranas (a collection of sacred texts about Hindu Gods) as teaching tools, conservative claims for “religious freedom” and the politics of LGBT rights, best practices for introduction to religion courses sponsored by the Wabash Center, the limits of Anthony Benezet’s (Quaker) abolitionism, decolonization in Kenyan Quaker meetings, a panel about my friend Heather White’s book “Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights,” and believe it or not, much much more.

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2017 NAIS Equity Design Lab: Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Teacher’s Experience

By Jeanne Watson-Smith

IMG_2502I attended the NAIS Equity Lab with a knowledge and love of brain research. Zaretta Hammond, Design Lab leader, connected my past professional development with what we know about best practices for fostering the learning of students of color. Hammond made it quite clear that micro aggressions and  teacher inability to grasp a student’s cultural frame of reference affected the student’s success in school. In essence, when a student of color is not fully understood, is marginalized, or is made to feel uncomfortable, their brain shuts down and no learning takes place.  From neuroscience studies we know that under stress the amygdala sends out cortisol which freezes the learning processes of the brain and puts it in a defensive mode. No learning can take place when the brain is in fight-or-flight mode.

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Blu Seeds: Explorations and Reflections from the Adirondacks, Summer 2017

By Jeff Waring, Art Teacher at Westtown School 


For the past 15 years or so, I’ve traveled to the northern Adirondack park, usually in mid July. Our family meets for a week at an old Great Camp just west of Saranac Lake, once used by Cal Coolidge as his Summer Whitehouse. Here among the history and the beauty we intentionally unwind and unplug. Perched on a ridge overlooking Osgood Pond, our setting offers access to pristine paddling, meandering trails, and solitude. The fragrance of pine, the softness of the forest floor, the towering trees, the moss, the fungi, the deadwood, the loons’ laughter, and the flow of water all refresh and reinvigorate my soul. There’s a lean-to close by where I usually set up an impromptu studio, and daily visits offer me the time and mental space to paint. My annual one week visit always feels right, yet always too short. Continue reading

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