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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When I became a scientist……
John Paull

          As I was opening another pocket museum, watched by a room full of K students, a boy put up his hand. “Are you a scientist?” he asked.
       “I sure am,” I replied. He looked at me and said, “UM, do you have to be old to be a scientist?’
              I smiled……….”Nope,” I said, “ I can, though,  remember the day I became a scientist.”

       And here’s my story on how and when it happened.

Me, Grandma Paull, Mum, Dad, and my two brothers, Jimmie and Charles, lived near the sea. Our small council house in Gwavas Estate overlooked Newlyn Harbour, Lariggan Beach, and the beautiful Mounts Bay.

Family walks, either to the country lanes or down the steep hill to the nearby seaside, in the spring, summer, and autumn, were the highlight of my childhood. Sometimes, after the Sunday meat and potato pasty dinner, washed down with a cup of hot, steaming tea, Mum would put a snack in her big bag and the family would put on its wellies and head for Lariggan Beach.  

If the tide was out, we’d first look to see what had been washed up on the beach, then stare into the rock pools, hoping to see a tiny red and blue crab scuttling under the dark brown weed. Then, we’d collect some smooth pebbles.

We’d look for those shaped like a heart, or, even better, those with a vein of milky-white quartz running through them.

They were special. Mum said they were special because they were wishing rocks.  

Finding a wishing rock made me feel good.  I’d pick it up, hold it in my hand, and slowly wrap my fingers around it.

When the pebble felt warm, I closed my eyes and thought about someone very dear to me………… and then send that person a very special wish.
Then, slowly, with a smile, I uncurled my fingers, knowing that a special person, somewhere, suddenly felt a warm shiver down the spine, just as he or she got my loving thoughts.  

Of course, I always sent my very best wishes to my mum and to my dad.  

As we walked around the beach, we gave Mum the best wishing rocks we found and she put them in a tin in her big bag.

Later, when we were home tucking into bread and treacle sandwiches, Mum put the very, very best wishing rocks in a old, cracked green glass jar that stood on the mantlepiece. The others were to be taken back to the beach the next time we went  for an afternoon walk.
On the day of my fifth birthday, Monday, July 14, 1947, a week before we broke up for the summer holiday, I was really surprised when my Dad, not my Grandma, met me at the end of the school day. Dad had never picked me up from school before. He was in his driver’s uniform so I knew he’d come straight from work. My stomach turned over – was something wrong? Was Grandma ill?

Standing by the iron fence, Dad smiled and said we were going hunting for pebbles on Lariggan Beach.

Just my Dad and me. Pebbling. On Lariggan Beach. After school. On my birthday. Could it get any better than that? I felt so special, and knew in my bones that something magical was about to happen. It was, after all, my very special 5th birthday treat.

And what a memorable lifetime treat it turned out to be.

The sky was bright blue, and the sun a shimmering yellow. St. Michael’s Mount, way off in the distance, looked very majestic, its fairy-tale castle catching the late afternoon sun setting behind the distant Mousehole granite cliffs. The tide was out and the smooth, black and grey and white pebbles were wet and shiny. As the greeny-blue water lapped back and forth, herring gulls squawked and squabbled as they looked for food scraps. We stepped over the pebbles, avoiding the slimy brown and yellow strips of seaweed. Dad reached in his pocket and brought out two of his OLD HOLBORN tobacco tins.

“Here,” he said, giving me one, “take this treasure tin and fill it. Just wishing rocks, mind you.” With a broad smile and a knowing twinkle in his eye, he said, “Bet I fill mine first.”

The competition was on. We walked along the seashore, stepping over the brown sticky seaweed, and we looked and we touched and we talked and we collected. The beach pebbles were so endearing, small, round, smooth, and warmed by the afternoon sun.

Soon my tin was full of wishing rocks and heart-shaped pebbles, and, yes, I beat my dad. My tin was filled before his! “OK, you win! Now it’s time to go, “ he said.
Just as we were leaving, I spotted something different. There, lying with all the other pebbles was a bright yellow object. It didn’t look like any of the other pebbles. It was so different, more like a small slice of pineapple.

Whatever was it? It stared up at me, wanting, I felt, badly to be picked up, wanting to be touched and admired. By me! And that’s what I did. I bent over, touched it, picked it up, and held it in the palm of my hand. It was lighter than a pebble. It was a magical moment. Wide-eyed, I showed my Dad. Because I knew he knew everything,
 I asked:“What’s this, Dad?”  He looked down at it, smiled, and then, half-closing his eyes, frowned. Dad had no idea what I’d found. “Dunno. Never seen that before. Good, though, in’t it?”

I thought that was really funny, because I knew he had seen everything there was to see. I couldn’t believe that Dad had never ever seen anything like the yellow stone before – and he’d been to the beach over a thousand times in his life. But Dad did know it was different, and, therefore, very, very special. “Take it home, “ he said,  “and show your ma. She’ll know.”

I stared at my orangey-yellow, rock-like, magical find. It looked soft. Not wanting to scratch it, I wrapped it up in my white hanky and put it in the other pocket – it didn’t seem right to put such a special rock in the OLD HOLBORN tin with the other pebbles I’d found.

Dad took my hand and we made our way back up Chywoone Hill. As I walked up the very steep hill, I kept feeling the Old Holborn tin in one pocket, and checking the lumpy hanky in the other. I KNEW I’d found something very special. I KNEW it was lying on the beach waiting for me to come along and find it. It was something that I KNEW belonged just to me – and would, forever. I KNEW it was a special day. I was excited! My discovery made my head glow.

When we reached 17, Trevarveneth Crescent, I skipped up the back garden path, past the three gooseberry bushes (planted by Dad, one for Jimmie, one for Charles, and one for me), pushed opened the glass door, and ran straight into the kitchen. Mum and Grandma were standing by the white enameled cooker, waiting for the kettle to boil. Beside myself with excitement, I shouted, “Mum, Mum, Grandma, I beat Dad. Filled my tin first. And…….see what I found. It’s brilliant!”

I took out my OLD HOLBORN tin and showed them what I’d collected on the beach. ‘And look at this,” I said, as I unwrapped my hanky. I knew then by the look on Mum’s and Grandma’s faces that the yellow rock I had found was special. And I found it on my birthday, too.

What a birthday surprise.” said Grandma. Mum looked at it again, sitting in the palm of my hand. “THAT beautiful yellow rock was waiting for you, Johnny,” she said, “just for you. I don’t know what it is……...but, it’s a treasure. A real treasure. Put it in one of your OXO treasure tins, Johnny, and keep it there, forever. Forever. You hear me? Forever and a day.”

I squeezed my treasure tightly in my hand and took it into the kitchen. I had never held such treasure before. I turned on the hot water tap and washed off the grainy sand with hand soap, dried my special rock with newspaper, stroked it, and looked at it again.

I put it on the dinner table, next to my birthday tea treats - the big blue and white plate of bread splits, a jar of jam, Cornish cream, and yellow saffron buns.  When I went upstairs to bed, I put the treasure into an OXO tin which already had my favorite wishing rock inside, slipped it under my pillow, curled my fingers around it, and, slept with a smile on my face. I fell asleep. What a birthday it had been.

As I dressed in the morning, I put the small OXO tin inside my left-hand trouser pocket, next to my favorite small seashell, to take to school to show my teacher, Miss Harvey. Mum said she’d know what the rock was because teachers know everything!

Dad reminded me as I went out the door with Grandma. “Got your yellow rock for your teacher, Johnny? Don’t forget it. You know what your ma said. Got your dinner, them OXO cubes, too?”

I couldn’t wait to get to school to show Miss Harvey. Even before all the boys sat in their seats, I was standing by her tall desk, the OXO treasure tin in my hand, spluttering, “Miss Harvey, Miss Harvey, see what I found! I found it on the beach, after school, yesterday. You know, next to the harbor wall. Went there with my dad. You know, when the tide was out, when you can see what the tide brought in.”  Every word came out in a rush.

As Miss Harvey looked inside my scratched OXO tin, her eyes widened when she saw the wishing rock and the yellow stone.!

Mum was right! Miss Harvey did know what I’d found!

It wasn’t, apparently a rock at all. It was ancient fossilized tree resin, and, she said, it was called amber. Miss Harvey knew that amber was millions of years old and came from the inside of trees.

Resin? Fossilized? Amber? Ancient? What beautiful words, I thought. I rolled the words around in my head. Resin. Fossilized. Amber, amber.

Miss Harvey held my beautiful amber in her hand, smiled, looked down at me through her glasses that balanced on the end of her sharp nose, and said loudly, so everyone in class could hear, that it had come from a far-off country. It had probably been washed ashore after a long, long trip in the sea. “And Johnny Paull was lucky enough to find it.”

Miss Harvey held my golden amber in her hand, smiled, looked down at me through her wire glasses that balanced on the end of her sharp nose, and said loudly, so everyone in class could hear, “THIS is amber…’s fossil tree sap………it’s been washed ashore after a long, long trip in the sea. Johnny Paull found it.”

Miss Harvey handed the amber back to me and then wrote the word A M B E R on the board. “Show it to everyone, pass it around.” Miss Harvey said. “Share it – that’s what scientists do. And, Johnny Paull, you’re a real scientist!”
What’s a scientist, I wondered? Is that something dead good? It sure made me feel good.

My head glowed. It was on fire. I was a scientist – whatever that meant!

But, that was it. I was hooked. I’ve been a scientist - and a treasure tin collector - ever since, thanks to my mum and dad and my super, duper teacher, Miss Harvey, who knew just about everything! She really set me on the right track!!

Thank you, thank you, Miss Harvey!

My, oh, my, what a difference a teacher makes!


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Owls pellets galore

Well, Bertie and Fifi were nowhere to be seen so I changed direction for my morning walk, turning right not left on the path.

As I approached a gully with a few fir trees, a barn owl came flying towards me........alarmed by my presence, no doubt, and telling me to push off.

Oooh, I thought..........let's go and have a look.

Under the first tree I picked up the most beautiful owl pellet!!

51, yes, 51 owl pellets later..............I came home......hands full of barn owl pellets......and filled three cigar boxes and two jam jars.......there they'll stay until I use them with a group of young scientists!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

NYT 5th May - GREAT editorial!!

I've just returned from a delightful walk around the nearby was such a delight to see the duck and other birds splashing around in the water. But.........the litter (mainly from those who fish and leave their junk behind when they've finished and gone home) was a disappointment, visually and environmentally..............

When I got home and opened the NYT, the following article brought a smile to my lips.......a very timely and relevant article close to my heart!!


The two-handled plastic shopping bag, cheap, strong, portable, almost feather-light, does its one job extraordinarily well.
It’s what it does afterward that is the problem. Having sheltered some purchase on a short, one-way trip home by car, subway or along a sidewalk, it is often abandoned to the wind. There it begins a new, practically eternal afterlife as a polluting nuisance. Bags roost tenaciously in trees, draping branches until they shred like ugly urban Spanish moss. They choke sewer drains and waterways, or they just roll around on the streets: tumbleweeds from some petroleum-based hellscape.
Plastic is ineradicable in modern society, but that is no reason not to try to limit the wastefulness and blight from its overuse. Thanks to determined efforts by environmentally minded advocates and politicians, like the New York City Council member Brad Lander, the city is poised to join the growing roster of places that have taken on the bane of plastic shopping bags.
The Council is to vote this week on a bill to impose a nickel fee on single-use bags at convenience, grocery and other stores. The fee applies to both plastic and paper, and is intended to discourage the use of disposable bags in favor of bags that are sturdier, environmentally friendlier and reusable.

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The bill’s supporters, a group that now includes the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, say the benefits of a cleaner city outweigh what they consider a relatively modest expense and inconvenience for shoppers. They cite the millions of dollars the city spends to send plastic bags to landfills, and the problems the bags cause by clogging recycling equipment.
Advocates for the poor have long resisted various cities’ efforts to crack down on bags — whether by charging fees or banning them — as a regressive tax on shoppers who can’t afford to be nickel-and-dimed every time they get groceries. The Council says the nickel fee is a compromise that tries to hit a sweet spot — less drastic than an outright ban, and half of the 10 cents that sponsors had originally sought, while still likely to sharply reduce the bags’ use. The fee, which retailers will collect and keep (it is not a tax, and so avoids the need for a government collection and enforcement effort), does not apply in transactions involving food stamps, as well as food pantries and other emergency food providers, and restaurants.
The bill’s reasoning, and its sensible exemptions, are on target. And its goal — a city less blighted by rustling blossoms of abandoned plastic — could not be nobler.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Jeannine's article that she submitted to UNBOX is soon to be published!!

A Journey With Venetia Phair, The Girl Who Named Pluto--
And What I Learned Along the Way
--Jeannine West Paull

I was in my fifth year of teaching in a Denver Public School---a school of choice with a “British Primary” label. This meant it essentially followed a model of the project based ‘integrated day,’ (Katz & Chard, 2000)  the term of choice before ‘project-based learning’ was known or well accepted.  In my first and second grade classroom (family groupings where students stayed with me for two years), we studied two units in depth each year, digging deeply into content from every content perspective.  

My students were from a variety backgrounds---some from very affluent families from the surrounding neighborhood and others who ‘choiced’ in from other parts of the city. The school invited parents to make intentional and informed choices about the kind of education their children would be receiving. There were ‘regular’ elementary classrooms as well as those with a ‘British Primary’ tag in my building.

In British Primary, we were encouraged to follow our students’ interests in developing rigorous units that immersed children in inquiry---following their own questions and developing plans to uncover answers (and content) along the way.  As you might expect, the discussions and directions each class took were often very different from their neighbors next door. As a teacher, I had great freedom in the way I delivered content. That is not to say that we didn’t have ‘learning walks’ by the district that didn’t wholeheartedly endorse our practices. I remember, for example,  being told once that my students’ bird journals (documenting and observing birds in and around our schoolyard and at home including questions for research) didn’t follow the district’s literacy plan. Nonetheless, this was a ‘program’ well supported by the community and had revitalized a neighborhood school where students were considered ‘high-achieving.’

In the first semester of the year, my 1st/2nd graders were studying the solar system---specifically, the moon, phases of the moon, and how we perceived the moon from Earth. We learned about Native American legends, lunar calendars, and eclipses. Typical of six and seven-year-olds, my students were  full of questions. Some already had a keen interest in the planets, having memorized the order in the solar system (nine planets) by heart.

One of our classroom rituals was to read something from the New York Times “Science Times” section each Tuesday. The Observatory section was always chock full of articles that tied to something we had either discussed in class or something that interested my students. In the September 12 edition, , the lead article was titled “Pluto’s Exotic Playmates.” This article, by Kenneth Chang, described some of the details surrounding Pluto’s demotion from planethood only the month before. It was now classified as only a ‘dwarf planet’--one of the many icy bodies orbiting in the Kuiper Belt in the farthest reaches of our solar system.  

My students were immediately fascinated by the article. Some, in fact, were distressed about the demotion of the ninth planet. We soon began to discover books and other resources about Pluto, the most notable being The Kid Who Named Pluto by Marc McCutcheon. This book recounted the story of Venetia Burney, who in 1930 suggested the name ‘Pluto’ for the newly discovered planet to her grandfather at the breakfast table. This is the element of the story that most interested my students--the little girl, Venetia Burney, who had named the planet.  They wanted to know---as six and seven-year-olds do---if she was still alive, where she lived, how old she was---and had she become a scientist? This last question was one held in high regard in our classroom.

Although this was 2006, we had but ONE computer in our classroom which we used to search  the internet.  We discovered that Venetia Phair--nee Burney--was still alive and living somewhere in Surrey, U.K.  Immediately, my students wanted to write to her to learn more about her life. They initially thought a letter would be right but then decided that they would like to add their thinking about the big scientific questions in their lives, especially about the universe.

So, a plan was made that we would write a book to send to Mrs. Phair in Surrey--made up of  pages written by my students to share their thinking with her.  

There was only one BIG concern with our plan. We didn’t have an actual address. We found on the internet that Ms. Phair lived in Epsom, Surrey. I asked my husband who grew up in the UK, and he explained that UK mail service wasn’t like the U.S. If we had the correct village, it would probably get delivered---not returned because it was missing the correct post code. This was a relief.  BUT, to be safe, the children and I decided to make TWO copies of our book--just in case the one we were sending got lost or was undeliverable in the big wide world of international mail.

In the days following, we set to work on our plan. The students wrote and illustrated their wonderings on individual pages (twice)---and then, the original book was put together in an ‘origami’ style with folded pages stacked on top of each other to complete the book. The second copy was a more traditional hand-sewn, hand-bound book.  They titled it---Our Big Book of Questions. Every student worked to complete and illustrate his/her page.  We included a class picture in the opening pages and an Albert Einstein quote for the epigraph--

The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

In the Foreword, we wrote:
Scientists have big questions and big ideas.  In our classroom, we are all scientists.  We wonder about things in the sky, on the earth, in the water, and in the history of our earth.  In this book we wanted to share some of our own ‘big questions.’
Ms. Jeannine’s Class
September 20, 2006

On September 20, 2006, we wrapped our book up carefully and tucked it into an envelope addressed to:
     Venetia Burney Phair
            Epsom, Surrey
            United Kingdom

And then, we waited……..

A month passed. And then, on October 24  I looked in my mailbox in the school office and saw a letter neatly addressed to ‘Ms. Jeannine West and all the children she teaches….’

I couldn’t wait to open it and share it with my students. The letter was handwritten, and in it, Mrs. Phair addressed many of the children by name in response to the questions they had posed in “that wonderful little book.”  

“I was intrigued by Mari’s I wonder if space is a ginormous planet?--but if it, what lies outside that planet?”

Mrs. Phair said that she was fascinated by many of the children’s questions and added she would love to know the answer to one written by Anna, “If alligators were alive when dinosaurs were, why didn’t they die too?” In closing she said that she had “been lucky altogether in naming Pluto because so many interesting things have happened to me as a result--hearing from you for one--and at the age of 88 that is very nice.”  and “with love and good wishes to you all.”

In the days that followed our classroom was abuzz with children talking about the letter---parents coming in to see it, and even an email from a grandparent telling me about the excitement it had generated in the household.  

“I just read your email regarding the correspondence with Venetia Burney Phair...I am so grateful that our darling Audrey has you for her teacher! Thank you for what you do every day that lures Audrey to love school so much.”

Thus began a wonderful correspondence between Mrs. Phair and my students that spanned more than two years including numerous exchanges of long letters, Christmas cards, and another volume of a similar book written by a subsequent class of 4th/5th graders in my next school. Her correspondence included details of a visit by Alan Stern, from the New Horizons Project at the Southwest Research Institute at Boulder, Colorado in December of 2006.  His project launched a space probe on January 19, 2006 and did a flyby of Pluto in the summer of 2015.   It yielded many exciting photographs and new facts about the dwarf planet. He also brought news to Mrs. Phair that Asteroid 6235, discovered in 1987 was named, ‘Burney,’ after her.

The last card arrived from Mrs. Phair in January 2009 in response to a Christmas card sent by the class.  

We were deeply saddened when we learned that Venetia Phair died only a few months later on April 30, 2009, at the age of 90.  

This kind of real life, authentic connection made by my students is what engages and drives curiosity and learning in my classroom--even today. I could never have scripted such experiences, and  I couldn’t have anticipated the impact it would make on my students.  

One of my mentors once said to me in a discussion about writer’s workshop that “writing floats on a sea of talk,” the quote by James Britton. I have come to believe that great discussions--the ‘sea of talk”--in classrooms drives the great thinking and learning that goes on there. Without my students’ curiosity, this correspondence would never have happened. The collective thinking of my students far outweighs any plan I might have for ‘where a unit should go…’  Although this was not a planned stop in our study of the solar system, it was one that had a profound impact on us all.

When students are able to put something out in the world, and it is received and responded to, learning is validated and therefore, valued.

In the current iteration of ‘project-based learning,’ I sometimes see teacher colleagues driven--and driving students--toward an ‘expected outcome,’ convergent thinking that pushes toward that big finish at the end--and somehow ALL classes in that grade level will arrive at that place at the same time with a similar ‘product.’ In reflecting on this experience with Pluto and Mrs. Phair, I am reminded how important it is to honor my students’ thinking, questions, and the opportunity to negotiate and design the way they will demonstrate their understanding in any unit.  

The path to learning--and the uncovering of content directed by the students sitting in front of me--is far more important (and relevant) that any plan I might have scripted for them.   There is always an element of ‘risk’ in a student-led approach; every unit doesn’t  have a guaranteed element of ‘magic.’  But, when those risks pay off, it is well worth it all.  

Katz, L. G., & Chard, S. C. (2000). Engaging Children's Minds: The Project Approach (3rd ed.). Praeger.

McCutcheon, M., & Cannell, J. (2004). The kid who named Pluto: And the stories of other extraordinary young people in science. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Jeannine West Paull is currently a fifth-grade teacher at Northeast Elementary in Douglas County, Colorado.  Her classroom focuses on actively engaging students in inquiry-based, authentic learning experiences--creating an environment that fosters collaboration and creativity, encouraging curiosity about and empathy with the natural world.    

Our Book of Big Questions.jpg

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

May dad's 104th birthday!!

It's a grey and snowy day...............I wish the sun was shining to celebrate Arthur Charles' birthday!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A walk with Bertie

It's a regular morning routine now, a longish walk in the wide open countryside at the back of my home with Bertie and Fiona. 

This morning, though, only Bertie appeared when I off he and I went....

and then, as no one was home, Bertie stretched out for a two minute rest.....

Then we made our way home.....
Fifi will be disappointed that she missed out on today's hike......