Fourth Grade Students Welcome Bats to Campus

Fourth Grade Students Welcome Bats to Campus

This fall, fourth grade students are taking additional steps to ensure that more local wildlife species feel at home at Ross Lower School. Last year the Bridgehampton campus was designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, acknowledging the students’ efforts to improve habitats for birds, frogs, and butterflies by providing them with essential elements for life. This year, the students are ensuring that bats also have the resources to survive by building wooden bat houses for shelter.

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Q&A with Bryan Smith: Science and Discovery at Ross Lower School

DSC_2500 Lower School Science teacher Bryan Smith is dedicated to providing early childhood (EC) through third grade students with a creative educational experience that incorporates exploration and investigation. In this post, School News talks with Bryan about the importance of starting science education at an early age and how he keeps his students motivated and interested in learning.

Describe your role as Lower School science teacher. I teach early childhood through grade 3 science classes. An end goal is to foster the students’ curiosity in the world around them, and we spend as much time outdoors as possible. It’s very hands on, and we conduct a lot of experiments. If they have fun while they are learning, then I’ve met my expectation for the day, so we make things bubble, boil, explode, and grow throughout the year.

What makes the science curriculum at Ross unique? We have an amazing cultural history–based curriculum that already distinguishes Ross School. At the Lower School, we go beyond that as one of the only schools on the East End to provide teaching specialists for even our youngest students in specific areas such as science, Spanish, Mandarin, arts, wellness, theater, and library studies. Starting the students on this advanced course of study in the EC and kindergarten classes helps create an important foundation at a very early age that will help students become lifelong learners and excel as they advance through upper grades and college.

How do the younger students respond to the material? For the EC students, everything is new and magical, and it’s rewarding to see their sense of wonder at the world. As they progress through to grades 3 and up, they take that curiosity with them.

The content covers a wide range, and much of the material they are exposed to includes elements that a typical student will not be introduced to until high school. But I find that teaching young students to be curious and to investigate helps them gain a deeper understanding of the significance of their studies. For example, we continue to have a major focus on sustainability at Ross, and many of our projects reflect how we interact with and affect the natural environment.

In recent months, pre-nursery and kindergarten students planted milkweed at the Lower School, a critical food source for the monarch caterpillar. In the spring, we’ll spend time in the gardens researching plants and insects. Other projects, such as the second grade’s weather station and creating clouds in a bottle, enable them to easily learn complex subject matter.

The kindergarten and first grade classes are my “growers,” and we have a refrigerator filled with seeds that we’ll have some fun planting in the spring. We also hope to build a beehive on our campus.

The third graders are learning about the evolution of mammals, and we’re excited about activities such as excavating fossils and conducting field and Internet research about the mammals on our farm.

The resources available to students and teachers at Ross are significant. The Lower School farm offers a great outdoor lab for the younger grades. It provides an opportunity to study animal behavior and care and specific lessons tied to the students’ studies, such as the kindergarten’s research into how animals adapt for the winter. Students are able to pet our sheep and feel the lanolin that they produce to protect their wool and skin from the wet and cold.

What led you to Ross Lower School? I’ve been at Ross for three years, and I’m enjoying incorporating both my academic and life experiences into the classroom. I studied the evolutionary biology of the human species at Columbia University, and then spent time in South Africa researching monkeys before returning to the states to teach at the Buckley School in New York. I then joined Ross after a year as a professional brewer.

I have always had an interest in human cognitive development, so teaching EC through grade 3 science is a perfect fit for me.

Tell us something people may not know about you. I grew up in Alaska, so I prefer the cold!

Making Connections with Gravitational Waves

MergingBlackHoles_V2Numerical simulations of the gravitational waves emitted by the inspiral and merger of two black holes. The colored contours around each black hole represent the amplitude of the gravitational radiation; the blue lines represent the orbits of the black holes and the green arrows represent their spins. Source: NASA/Ames Research Center/C. Henze Last week, scientists announced an important new discovery: the first observation of "gravitational waves,” a phenomenon predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but never directly verified by experiments until now. On Thursday, Dr. Dave Morgan, director of Innovation Lab @Ross, spoke to Ross Upper School students at a special Community Meeting, sharing information about the discovery and performing some demonstrations to explain what it all means.


Einstein’s theory of general relativity tells us that gravity is caused by a distortion or “curvature” of space and time. But it also predicts that spacetime can twist, vibrate, and distort in other ways. To demonstrate the effect of waves on spacetime, Dr. Morgan first had the students on the bleachers do “the wave,” a familiar pastime at sporting events. He explained that a wave passes through a medium: in this case, the medium was the students; while surfing, the wave passes through the medium of water; sound waves pass through the medium of air; and in the case of gravitational waves, the medium is space. He then used a piece of stretchy fabric, held by four volunteers, to represent the curvature of spacetime, placing a series of balls on it to show how the gravity of objects distorts what starts out as a plane. These physical representations of complex concepts helped students to grasp the mechanics of seemingly perplexing scientific principles.


Dr. Morgan went on to explain that a gravitational wave is a distortion or “ripple” in spacetime caused by a violent event in space. This ripple moves at the speed of light, and causes space to stretch and compress as it travels across the cosmos. In fact, he explained, a gravitational wave could move through the medium of the students themselves, causing the students to stretch taller and compress shorter in turn—but that the amount of stretch would be less than a nanometer, and thus imperceptible to the human eye. In the case of the gravitational wave detected by the current experiment, called LIGO, the event that caused the ripple seems to be the collision of two large black holes, each one around 30 times as massive as our Sun.

LIGO is short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. An interferometer is a device that splits a beam of light and sends it along two perpendicular paths. The two beams bounce off of mirrors and are recombined. Deviations in the recombined light waves can be used to measure very small differences in the distance traveled by the two beams. In the LIGO experiment, when a gravitational wave passes by, the path of one light beam is stretched while the other one is squished. This difference in the beams is very tiny—much smaller than the size of an atom. But sophisticated data analysis allowed scientists to detect this tiny “wobble” in spacetime as it jiggled LIGO’s mirrors.

Dr. Morgan also made the point that while the discovery of evidence of gravitational waves is notable and interesting, it is important to realize that the discovery is confirmation of a theory that has been an integral part of scientific understanding for a hundred years. He followed up by saying, “This is how science works. Even when we are almost certain a theory is correct, we have to check out all of its predictions, even if it’s hard, and even if it takes a really long time. Scientists have been checking off Einstein’s predictions for over a century now. LIGO’s discovery is just one more success in a long line of successes for the theory of general relativity, which is one of the most well-tested theories in all of science.

Dr. Morgan continued, “A lot of interest in this discovery comes from the fact that it involves the ideas of Albert Einstein, who is a sort of ‘heroic’ figure in science—a pop culture icon in addition to being an important physicist.” He asked students to mentally picture Einstein, and then to reflect on whether they could picture other scientists as well. He pointed out the posters, coffee mugs, T-shirts, and even his own socks that featured Einstein, explaining, “Einstein’s ideas are fascinating, and they sound like science fiction, and they really excite people—which is great for physics, because it gets people’s attention and generates a lot of interest.”

Click here to hear the "chirp" sound detected by the LIGO experiment, and to link to the New York Times article about the discovery.

Students Study Medieval Alchemy, Distill Fragrances

DSC_5694 As part of their Golden Age of Islam unit, Ross eighth graders recently learned about medieval alchemists and the processes they established that were critical to the evolution of the science of chemistry. Last week, they put their new knowledge to the test by distilling their own fragrances.


Before attempting the distillations, students discussed the purpose of the Islamic alembic (a tool used for distillation) and the physical properties of solids, liquids, and gases. They also explored how changes in temperature and pressure affect the state of matter, making distillation possible. Then, using a simple alembic still, they created their own fragrances incorporating organic materials such as fruit and herbs.


Eighth grader India Galesi-Grant created an extract of nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla, eucalyptus, pine needles, and cloves. She chose these ingredients after discovering in her research that this combination of ingredients is exactly what medieval Islamic doctors used to help purify the air, purify the body from evil, and relieve someone suffering a cold. India said this concoction was also sold as a perfume in the markets for a very high price. She tried to recreate this essence with her lab partner Ana Contreras, and it was mostly successful.


Through the process, students learned that alchemy led to the isolation of chemical compounds and elements, as well as the creation of acids and solvents, gunpowder, cheese, and inks and paints. “The distillation lab exercise is important to the students’ understanding of medieval alchemists’ contribution to science,” said Science teacher Anna Strong.


While extracting their fragrances, students carefully recorded the process and changes in the state of the matter, drawing a connection to one of the most famous Islamic alchemists, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy through his use of scientific methodology and investigation and is often referred to as “the father of chemistry.”

Students also connected the distillation exercise to the spiritual aspects of medieval alchemy, learning that Islamic alchemists were motivated by a requirement for purity of mind, body, and soul. As with the physical distillation process that increases the purity of a fermented solution, spiritual distillation seeks to eliminate metaphysical impurities.

“The distillation lab work really brings their studies of this pivotal period in the history of chemistry to life,” Anna said.


Students Study Earth’s Evolution on Nature Hike

DSC_4661 Ross School third graders hit the trails at Long Pond Greenbelt Preserve on Tuesday to observe and collect plant life specimens as part of their studies of Earth’s evolution. Lower School Science teacher Bryan Smith kicked off the hike with helpful information about what to keep an eye out for, such as moss and lichen. Wellness teacher John Germano passed around several compasses, reminding the students about their recent lesson in navigation, and then the group was off on an adventurous trek to Long Pond.DSC_4599

The class immediately observed several different types of lichen, moss, and mushrooms and gathered samples in plastic bags. Their teachers explained the significance of their finds and also offered a few lessons in conservation, including a warning not to pick mushrooms because it would kill the fungi. Instead, they were invited to photograph them and other species they encountered.


Along the path, students also gathered information about how these organisms grow, such as moss thriving on the north side of a tree, and are structurally adapted for their environment—information that they will verify through reference research back at school and record in their Cultural History journals. They will then try to mimic the conditions in a classroom terrarium created with their collections.

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As they hiked, the students’ creativity and imagination was inspired by interesting finds such as a dead tree that was oddly split, prompting some to speculate that it had been struck by lightning or an animal. Further up the path, they came across a “cool” large rock with black spots. One student saw a pattern resembling and elephant, and another insisted it was created with spray paint.


At the pond, the class collected additional specimens from the water and soil and paused for a quick lesson from Bryan. Asking students how the day’s discoveries related to their studies of early life, he invited them to observe the colonies of green bacteria that were likely related to one of the first plants on Earth.


Third grade teacher Meghan Hillen said the students are looking forward to creating the terrarium. The plan is to use cellophane to cover the tank, allowing for water to be recycled through the system. On a class chart, they’ll compare mosses and lichens in the wild to the ones in their terrarium and use the chart to monitor and track changes in the system. They will also investigate the role of these organisms as pioneering species and examine their relationship to two of Earth’s first green organisms: algae and ferns.

Senior Project: Autonomous Water Chemistry Drone

DSC_5837 (1) Senior Liam Cummings has a keen interest in marine science and chemistry, so it’s no surprise that he chose to build a device that can collect important information about the waters surrounding the East of End of Long Island. For his Senior Project, the capstone experience at Ross School, Liam programmed and “hacked together” a small autonomous watercraft that navigates via GPS and logs data about conditions that impact life underwater.


An initial motivation for Liam’s project was curiosity about the water quality of a creek near his home on Shelter Island. “I’m told there used to be life in the creek,” he said, “and I was hoping to find out if there was a cause for the decline.”

To get started, he purchased a small remote-controlled boat, stripped out its transmitter and receiver, and installed an Arduino microcontroller board, which ultimately functioned as the “brain” of the device. As an Innovation Lab @Ross student, Liam had some experience with programming controllers, but the project helped him to become more proficient at coding, with guidance and advice from Urban Reininger, director of Instructional Technology, and Marine Sciences teacher Dr. Jack Szczepanski.


Next, Liam installed and programmed a digital compass and GPS, specific sensors to measure water temperature and pH levels, and an SD card to store the data. One obstacle he encountered was deciphering the GPS data string. “The computer interprets the string as one long word,” he explained, “and it cannot do math with words. I thought I had to find a way to turn the words into numbers, but that was not the case.”

Eventually, he found a solution. He could recall specific data by typing in “GPS.time” or “” “It was pretty much smooth sailing after that,” Liam said.

As a test run, he launched the boat in a body of water just outside the inlet to the creek he was concerned about. The boat collected data as it navigated to preprogrammed waypoints. DSC_5828

Initial findings indicated that the water was slightly alkaline, so Liam plans to conduct additional research to compare these against ideal pH conditions for local sea life. “I have a big interest in ocean acidification,” Liam said. “It may seem minor, but pH level has a huge impact on reefs.”

Liam is looking into ways to improve the boat’s mobility, battery life, and overall productivity. In the near term, he plans to program the waypoints so that the boat collects data in a grid. Adding additional sensors to test for other factors, such as dissolved oxygen and turbidity, is also an option. “Turbidity is particularly important to the health of coral reefs, because they are heavily reliant on photosynthetic organisms,” he said. What he learns could be applied to reefs like the one he explored as part of a Ross School Field Academy trip to Mo’orea last year.


On final reflection, Liam says he believes his Senior Project could potentially be an important research tool for marine scientists. In the meantime, he hopes future Innovation Lab @Ross students will have an opportunity to experiment with the product.

Liam will continue his chemistry studies at Drexel University in the fall, and we wish him success.

Ross Students Explore Marine Science Using Eco Labs

EcoLab4 The start of the spring season has been busy for the Innovation Lab @Ross Marine Science class and their teacher, Dr. Jack Szczepanski. In the eco labs, specialized labs for studying biology and ecology located in Building 1 on Ross’s Upper School campus, exciting undertakings abound—from raising cuttlefish and turtles to embarking on the first phase of resurrecting the large saltwater aquarium.


Most of the current contents of the eco labs are projects that students developed with Jack’s help. Ninth grader Tali Friedman is spearheading the rehab of the large display tank. She is currently making an algae scrubber, a device that uses light to grow algae, and will eventually add some dogfish and other species of marine life to the tank.


Small red-eared slider turtles are being nurtured by sophomore Ray Schefferine, who aspires to be a digital designer for a video game company. He’s studying the turtles and using design software to reconstruct a digital version of the head of a large snapping turtle.


Junior Shanshan He has constructed an Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (ARMS) and used it to analyze local communities of small marine species in Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton. She is working on producing a field guide to South Pacific reef communities, a venture stemming from a Field Academy trip to the Solomon Islands. Evi Saunders, a sophomore, will use the facilities to study the cognitive abilities of cuttlefish once they have hatched.


Senior Liam Cummings built an autonomous data-collecting vessel for his Senior Project, and is now using it to test the concentration of iodine in our local waters and seaweed.

Jack says the year has been an adventure: “Most of our work is hands-on learning, and when you are dealing with live creatures, the results are unpredictable and rewarding.” After mentoring a Field Academy trip to study the coastal ecology of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, he was eager to return to Ross to see how his own ecosystems were getting along. He discovered that many of the specimens in and around the lab had “been getting a bit frisky,” a sure sign that spring was in the air (especially for the corn snakes and snails in the reef aquarium). Jack hopes to post an update on the cuttlefish project on his blog next week, as well as share other news as the trimester plays out.


The class is wrapping up the school year with some field trips, including a recent visit the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. Jack says they also plan to “get into the water” with experts from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (based on Shinnecock Bay in Southampton) to learn about field collection methods and our local Long Island waters.

Third Grade’s Laetoli Footprints Track Human Evolution

DSC_4620 (1) As part of their studies of evolution of life on Earth, Ross third graders recently recreated one of the most important archeological finds in helping us understand the origins of humans—an 88-foot-long trail of footprints that was fossilized 3.6 million years ago at a volcanic site in Laetoli, Tanzania. 

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To prepare, students first learned that in 1978 renowned paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey uncovered two sets of prints created by Australopithecus afarensis. This species of hominid was bipedal (walked on two feet) and moved with a heel-toe stride like we do today.


Working in the sandbox at the Lower School, classmates walked in the sand to create a footprint trail like that at Laetoli. The third grade archaeologists then made casts of the footprints using plaster. The class integrated mathematics skills to measure the distance between the footprints, recreating the methods used to prove that the hominids were bipedal and to study the physiology of their legs. Later in the day, students excavated the casts and cleaned them in the classroom lab.

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“This was a significant undertaking for the students that involved a knowledge of archaeology, precise field and lab work, and documentation of their findings,” said Meghan Hillen, third grade teacher. “Ultimately, we learned that careful preservation of fossils and artifacts helps inform our research as cultural historians.”


Grade 6 Phoenician Projects Entertaining and Educational

Sailing2 On November 21, Ross School sixth graders brought to life the history of the Semitic civilization and ocean navigation through projects tracking the Phoenician mariners’ journey along an ancient trade route. The students developed their presentations working with Lower School Science Teacher Michele Passarella.


In studying the Phoenicians’ sea routes, culture, and ship-building and navigation skills, the class learned that the seamen excelled at trade because they were experts at establishing a position and course using astronomy, geometry, and specialized instruments. The time period sparked a new trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean Sea and had a profound impact on modern methods of oceanic transportation and communication.


The class divided into three groups, and each created a visual presentation of their studies, specifically, the ancient trade route through the Strait of Gibraltar to West Africa and back to northeastern Italy. Students recreated the seafarers’ journeys with videos and props including handmade, detailed maps and replicas of the Phoenician vessels, as well as navigation tools such as the sounding weight, a bell-shaped stone that helped mariners check the depth of the waters and judge the distance to the shoreline.

As students presented, they narrated the journey. One group acted out their story live in the classroom, while the others produced video documentaries (starring themselves, of course). Spectators, who included parents and friends, were impressed with the professional quality of the students’ work and interested to learn historical facts about the Phoenicians, such as the ways they traded glass, slaves, and copper and used the Sun, Cassiopeia, and Big Dipper to mark their positions and chart their nautical courses. Attendees also learned that the Phoenicians were sometimes referred to as the “purple people” because they were the first to create the color, using murex snails.


“I am so proud of my students. They worked so hard to create these unique presentations, and the incredible scientific and historical detail shows their dedication to their study of this pivotal time in maritime history,” Michele said.

Third Grade Excavates “Fossils” at Lower School

Dig 3 One of the best things about studying the art and science of archaeology is being able to get your hands dirty and actually dig stuff up. On November 4, Ross third graders got to do just that, building on lessons about fossil formation that are part of their Cultural History unit on evolution. The class brought learning to life by burying student-made artifacts in the garden at the Lower School so that the aspiring Indiana Joneses could subsequently excavate them, putting skills into practice that they’d only heard about remotely.

View pictures of the grade 3 archaeological dig Dig2

The class divided themselves into teams, and each planned a site for another team to excavate. The students had to think of a way to leave artifacts that would tell something about a community to their fellow archaeologists. It was left up to them to determine their site's "story." The artifacts the students eventually uncovered told tales of a maritime fishing village and of a more modern-day society.


Working with small paintbrushes, students located items such as an animal jawbone and bits of pottery buried at various depths. They carefully uncovered the fossils and shards, deftly excavating the pieces and fitting them together in a recreation of the type of work done by professional archaeologists and paleontologists.

As they processed the site, Lower School Science Teacher Bryan Smith talked to the students about important things to note, emphasizing that the location of the artifact in the ground can be equally important as the find itself. Using a printed grid, the teams documented the “where” and “what” of the artifacts to help during later analysis. They eventually removed and cleaned their finds, and then pieced together the story they told.


“This is an important part of the lesson. The real-life excavation helps the students understand the significance of the science associated with discovering details of ancient life and society,” Bryan said.


Third and Fourth Graders Extend Studies at Long Pond, LI Aquarium

IMAG4885 As part of their studies of the earliest species of life on Earth, Ross School third graders are currently growing mold (fungi) in their classroom. On October 2, they headed to the Long Pond Greenbelt Preserve in Bridgehampton to observe and record many species of moss, lichen, and fungi, and to learn how these organisms have adapted to their environment. The class collected specimens and will create a moss and lichen garden in a tank for further observation.


On September 30, Ross fourth graders visited the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead as an extension of their studies of natural communities, sustainability, and local animal migration. “They will spend many weeks learning about the anatomy, life cycles, and migration patterns of animals found in habitats on the East End, and this trip was a wonderful opportunity for the students to associate with the wildlife outside of the classroom,” said Michele Passarella, Lower School Science teacher.


Students took in a sea lion show, visited the horseshoe crab touch tank and shark tank, and attended a seminar on butterflies and moths. At the butterfly and moth sanctuary, the specimens were very friendly and many hitched a ride with some lucky students!


Another favorite experience was the Atlantis Explorer Boat Tour, which took the students down the Peconic River and into Flanders Bay. The excursion offered the opportunity for hands-on exploration while promoting environmental awareness and education about the Peconic Estuary.

Innovation Lab @Ross Is “Best in Class” at World Maker Faire 2014

Maker Faire booth 1 Innovation Lab @Ross students and teachers exhibited at the World Maker Faire 2014 in Queens on September 20 and 21 as Young Makers. Their booth in the educational section of the fair showcased projects including robots, electronics, and photo and video presentations, as well as one of their 3D printers, which printed out student creations in real time for fair attendees. Ross received a “Best in Class” ribbon from the Maker Faire organizers for their projects and presentations.

Maker Faire draws more than 50,000 visitors each year, including tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to the event to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.

Maker Faire 3

Innovation Lab Director Dr. David Morgan and Director of Academic Technology Urban Reininger took some time away from exhibitor duties to connect with representatives from companies presenting new technology products, as well as directors and founders of “maker spaces” across New York and New Jersey. Their fellow attendees expressed a great deal of interest in Innovation Lab @Ross and the experiences of building the academy over the past couple of years. Innovation Lab students and instructors anticipate mutually beneficial collaborations and partnerships will result from these discussions.

When not at their booth sharing their own work with visitors, Innovation Lab students had a chance to explore Maker Faire themselves. Highlights of the event this year included the latest 3D printers, a variety of home-brewed electronic musical instruments, a 50-foot pedal-powered mechanical alligator, DIY (do-it-yourself) brain wave readers, and “Game of Drones,” a series of head-to-head aerial dogfights between remote-controlled quadcopters.

Grades 7 and 8 Science Fair

DSC_4329 At the grades 7 and 8 Science Fair on May 28, students exhibited their projects in the Great Hall and discussed their findings with teachers, staff. and members of the community. The seventh and eighth graders focused on a wide range of topics—from testing the effects of Wi-Fi connectivity on plant life to detecting the sincerity of a smile to researching the best shampoo.


The students began working on their experiments in September. The project was broken down into several stages, with the young scientists determining a research question, writing a project proposal, conducting background research, formulating a detailed procedure and hypothesis, running the experiment, graphing their data, and, finally, drawing a conclusion.


Students who maintained a distinguished average through all stages of the project were selected as finalists. They were then interviewed by a judge who scored them based on the quality of their experiment, the depth of their knowledge, and the quality of their oral and visual presentation.


After the first round of scoring by the faculty and two Upper School student judges, the four students with the highest scores were then interviewed by second round judges Patty Lein, head of Upper School, and Dr. Dave Morgan, dean of Science.


“My project was about fairness, and if our sense of fairness is controlled in certain situations of sharing. I found that there are discernible differences in selfishness with children and adults, and with boys and girls,” said Tristan Griffin, who won first place in the fair for grade 8. (See below a complete list of prize winners and finalists.)


Marco Marsans, who came in second in grade 8, tested whether hand dominance could affect one's ability to learn languages. He became interested in his topic when he learned that the language center is located in the left hemisphere of the brain. “By the end of my trials, I concluded that lefties were more in touch with their language center than righties,” he said. “I also found data suggesting that girls might be better at this as well. Older people scored slightly higher than other participants, and students from European countries usually received the highest scores. Overall, this was a very fun and interesting experiment, and I would love to keep expanding the project in the future,” he said.


Throughout the fair, judges circulated around the room and spoke with the junior scientists. “It was an impressive event in terms of the research topics, the depth of the findings, and the students’ professional approach to organizing and presenting the data. All seventh and eighth graders should be proud of their significant accomplishments,” said Anna Strong, science teacher and Science Fair leader.


Grade 8 1st place—Tristan Griffin: “Is fairness governed?” 2nd place—Marco Marsans: “Is there a correlation between handedness and the ability to learn new languages?” 3rd place—Carley Wootton: “Is there a correlation between intellectual habits and use of the word ‘like’?”

Grade 7 1st place—Sophie Griffin: “How different are only children?” 2nd place—Dualta Gallaher: “Can exercise make our brains work better?” 3rd place—Alex Saunders: “Does weather affect our moods?”

Grade 8 Finalists Falon Attias: “When a dancer does a pirouette, does the leg position/angle in posse affect the speed and amount someone does?” India Attias: “Does your name affect how people perceive you?” Caroline Breitweiser: “Do video games improve reaction time?” Rosa Carmichael: “Do peppermints improve one’s ability to concentrate?” Sophie Cassou: “Does label color affect how healthy we perceive a food to be?” Emily Costello: “Which notes make the strongest vibration with ‘C’?” Nina Damiecki: “Do kids have a better sense of rhythm than adults?” Victoria Hu: “Is it possible to distinguish fake and genuine smiles?” Peter Kim: “Do fruit flies prefer organic or conventional fruits?” Ted Morency: “Is it possible to make a homemade toothpaste that’s as effective as a leading brand?” Gideon Yektai: “Does Wi-Fi affect plant growth?”

Grade 7 FInalists Lily Attias: “Which energy drinks affect your energy levels the most?” Dualta Gallaher: “Does aerobic exercise make our brains work better?” Sarah Levine: “Which shampoo is the best?” Larry Li: “Can the color of paper affect the speed of doing homework?” Carter Marcelle: “Do family members have similar fingerprints?” Valentina Monsalve: “Are dancers better at recovering from dizziness than non-dancers?” Audrey Niu: “Does the color of your plate affect how appetizing food appears?”

Tesla Motors Gives Students a Look Under the Hood of New Model S

DSC_4793 On May 5, Tesla Motors specialists brought the Model S P85+ electric car to Ross Upper School to visit with Dr. Dave Morgan and the Innovation Lab @Ross students, provide an overview of the vehicle’s engineering and technology, and let everyone get hands-on with the machine’s features and functions. Some lucky faculty and staff even took it for a test drive (and eventually returned, if reluctantly).


“It’s great that the Innovation Lab kids get to see technology that is just ready to hit the streets,” Dave said. “It’s like our work with 3D printers. The electric car is in its infancy and about to go mainstream, and it’s exciting for the students to get a peek at these trailblazing technologies.”


The Model S is a silent, electric, luxury sports car designed for performance, environmentally friendly, and equipped with an 85-kWh lithium-ion battery and a 17-inch video display that is basically the driver’s “mission control.” It also goes from 0–60mph in less than four seconds.


After a quick run-through from the specialists, the students jumped in for a closer look and were surprised to find lots of empty space under the hood. They noted the level of detail, from the door handles that slide outward with a simple touch, to the available music, to the advanced navigation features.


Dave said he was impressed by his student’s reactions. “It was nice for me to hear them ask really good, insightful questions about the technology itself, and particularly about the long-term impact of the used batteries. They obviously realize the important fact that no energy technology is without some impact on the environment.”


Austin Handler, whose son is in the fourth grade at Ross Lower School and also a Junior Innovation Lab student, brought his own Model S to campus to join the discussion.

“The Model S is truly disruptive technology. While the automotive industry has seen improvements over the years, they pale in comparison to the level of innovation that Tesla has shown in the Model S, which can receive performance upgrades via software updates over the cellular network, just like a smart phone does,” Austin said. “It’s great that the Ross students have the opportunity to get a look inside the car that is the wave of the future.”


At the end of the day, eleventh graders Harrison Rowen and Jeong Ho Ha wheeled out their life-size replica of a Ford Model T, which they created for their Modernity project. Looking at the two game-changing vehicles, Dave summed up the experience by noting, “It’s interesting to realize how much our expectations about what a car can do and what it will look like are constrained by this 100-year-old technology of internal combustion engines. It’s exciting to see a company questioning those assumptions."

M-Term Adventures Shared at Lower School, Ross Gallery

DSC_3419 At the opening of the 2014 Midwinter Term exhibit at the Ross Gallery on April 9, members of the Ross community gathered to view artwork by the Art and Community class and photography, videos, and journals from student trips to Belize; Cuba; French Polynesia; Greece; Panama; Myanmar; St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands; England; and Long Island.


Highlights of the exhibit included a human rights mural dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela and portraits of the students in traditional Tahitian dress, along with images of coral reefs and marine life, exotic wildlife and fauna, ancient landmarks, Buddhist temples, and traditional instruments. The students also captured memories of their adventures into new worlds and cultures in writing. The M-Term exhibit will be on display through mid-May.


M-Term sharing continued at the Lower School on April 11. Teacher Mark Foard and several high school students who hiked the Ridgeway Trail in southern England with him summarized their experiences for the fourth grade class, which is currently studying Neolithic communities and sustainable environments. The Ridgeway passes near many Neolithic, Iron Age, and Bronze Age sites, including Stonehenge, Wayland’s Smithy, and White Horse Hill, site of the Uffington White Horse chalk monument. Mark and the students brought the adventure to life with a video documentary of their trip, humorous tales of hopping fences and slogging through mud, and their delight in finding bits of ancient civilizations along the way. Many fourth graders said it was great to see some of the places and architectures they learned about in class and to realize they too could visit them one day.


At the end of the day, kindergarten through sixth grades gathered in the Multi-Purpose Room for a special assembly, attended by Mrs. Ross, to learn about the M-Term Founder’s Expedition to French Polynesia. Dressed in ceremonial Tahitian headdresses and skirts, the older students opened with performances of the Maeva, a long, quick, rhythmic dance of welcome; the Haka, a traditional men’s dance to display warrior skills; and the Ti’are, a lyrical women’s dance. They also discussed their biodiversity studies at the University of California Berkeley Gump South Pacific Research Station and displayed the biocube they used during their research. At the conclusion of the presentation, the younger students were invited to the front of the room to learn the dances and were offered the opportunity to conduct their own future biodiversity studies with their classmates.


Second Graders Study Meteorology at LI Science Center

LISC05 Ross School second graders visited the Long Island Science Center in Riverhead on March 31 to further their studies of meteorology. Students explored more than 30 interactive exhibits to gain a better understanding of weather systems.


In recent weeks, the second grade learned about the various elements that help meteorologists predict the weather. Their studies also made connections back to what they learned in first grade about the water cycle and in kindergarten about fire, air, and water and their relationship to temperature, wind, and air pressure.


On this trip, students handled weather instruments, discussed cloud formations, watched a tornado spin, and made an anemometer to take home. There were shrieks of excitement as students took turns in the “Hurricane Simulator.” “The class was able to experience the intricacies of our weather systems with a look behind the scenes at what creates weather patterns, from a springtime shower to a destructive tornado,” said Lower School teacher Shannon Timoney.


The students also explored the center as a whole, taking in insect habitats, a Galapagos Islands photo exhibit, and the Long Island Wireless Historical Society exhibit capturing the East End’s technological history.


M-Term Week 3: Students Wrap Up and Reflect on Experiences

The 2014 Midwinter Term will end on March 14, and students are wrapping up their studies. Classes will present their experiences at an M-Term sharing night on April 9.


In the South Pacific, students on the Mo’orea trip spent a few nights on Teti’aroa, an atoll that was the former home of the Pomare, or Tahitian royal family. The class continued their exploration and biocube studies and rehearsed the Haka (men’s dance) and Ti’are (women’s dance), which they will perform at a dinner celebration. They’re also reflecting on what they have learned, agreeing they will take home a greater sensitivity to both their own and society’s impact on the environment.


Similarly, students studying Ethnomusicology in Cuba have been moved by their experiences and say the Cuban culture is beautiful in its sentimentality and affection. They, too, prepared a final performance, learning four new drum routines and five dances, including the rumba, son, and conga.


Students on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John spent their last days of the trip hiking the coastlines and forests to observe petroglyphs left by the Taino Indians, sugar plantation ruins, and wildlife, including the golden orb-weaver spider and Antilles pinktoe tarantula.


In Bocas del Toro on the Panama trip, students toured the Oreba cacao plantation, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Isla Colón, and continued to discover colorful marine life.


On the final day of the Belize trip, seventh and eighth graders visited the Smithsonian Marine Research Station to learn about different species of coral and conches, beach erosion, and spawning of several marine animals.


On their last leg of the Ridgeway Trail, students crossed the North Wessex Downs from Avebury to Streatley, the rain-swollen Thames River, and the Chiltern Hills, visiting Wayland’s Smithy and White Horse Hill, site of the Uffington White Horse chalk monument.


Back in New York, classes are completing trips, rehearsing for performances, and perfecting their cuisine. The Making Life a Little Greener students visited Quail Hill Farm, where they met Seedtime author Scott Chaskey, and the Arts and Culture class was featured on German TV discussing the human hamster trail performance "In Orbit". On March 14, the Musical Theater Workshop class will perform a musical review with excerpts from Chess, Frozen, Greece, Pippin and Tommy, and students exploring Long Island will share their M-Term experiences with the Lower School.


Congratulations to all students on the completion of a successful Midwinter Term.

OFF-CAMPUS COURSE BLOGS Adventure on the South Pacific: Founder’s Trip to French Polynesia  Read blog The Coastal Ecology of St. John, U.S. Virgin Island  Read blog Ethnomusicology in Cuba  Read blog An Exploration of the Culture, History, and the Environment of Panama  Read blog Hiking the Ridgeway: Sustainable Travel on the Oldest Road in Europe  Read blog Isolated Like an Island in the Planetary Sea: Myanmar  Read blog RSTA Travels to Greece: The Olympics and the Meaning of Sport  Read blog Grades 7/8: Ethnology and Sustainable Ecology in Belize  Read blog

M-Term Week 2: Marine Studies, Rain Forests, Art, Music, Theater, and Cuisine

The 2014 Midwinter Term, or M-Term, began on February 24 and runs through March 14. Students are currently traveling overseas, studying on campus, and working on approved independent projects.


In Mo’orea, students are working with marine science experts at the Gump South Pacific Research Station conducting on-site biodiversity research and fieldwork to collect, identify, and document marine life using biocubes, frames that measure 1 cubic foot of space in the ocean. This week, students accompanied distinguished Smithsonian scientists Dr. Chris Meyer and Dr. Seabird McKeon to the edge of Cook’s Bay to retrieve the ARMS (artificial reef monitoring system), which has been submerged and collecting data for two years.


In the Caribbean, Ethnomusicology in Cuba students continued their daily drumming classes and explored the beauty of old Havana, while students studying the coastal ecology of the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John are learning about the island’s flora and fauna and the challenges facing the local coral reefs. Recently, they went on a medicinal plant walk with an indigenous local expert and visited Princess Bay and Haulover Bay.


Over in Central America, on the Panama trip, students are studying the lush rain forests and wildlife and interacting with indigenous groups. On March 3, they journeyed three hours outside of Panama City to Tusipono village to meet the Embera Tribe. One student said of the experience, “We are true outsiders, but the people are more welcoming than some of our neighbors at home.”


Not too far away, in Belize, students are exploring tropical rain forests, observing marine animals and other wildlife (including howler monkeys and coatis), and learning the customs of the local people. On March 6, the class got to snorkel near the Belize Great Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world, diving in with sea creatures of all kinds.


On March 6 in England, students traversing the Ridgeway Trail walked 17 miles from Avebury to Ogbourne St. George. Despite the long walk, the group seems to be maintaining good spirits, and they are posting reflections on their visits to such British landmarks as Stonehenge and Westminster Abbey. Further east in Europe, Ross School Tennis Academy students in Greece are keeping up with a rigorous training schedule but taking time to experience the culture, cuisine, and history—and of course, the grass courts!


In Myanmar, students are experiencing the sometimes shocking diversity between the country’s ancient beauty and its modernity. “The cultural difference between what I am used to and what I see here is vast, and I’m not even sure I have begun to properly comprehend it,” one student said of her first experiences with this new world. They are currently in Mandalay.


Back in New York, the Art and Culture class is completing a mural with students’ paintings of human rights violations; Innovation Lab engineers are turning a large ride-on Barbie ATV into an autonomous robotic rover; and the Mangiamo class is learning Italian cooking, language, and culture.


Students exploring Long Island visited the Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Sag Harbor and went on a shark dive at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead, where the students were lowered in a cage to observe the sharks. The class has also been learning about coastal ecology from the experts at the aquarium.

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The Life Behind the Lyrics class has been busy. So far, they have studied Beyoncé, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Kelly Rowland, Destiny's Child, Bob Dylan, "American Pie," Nas, J. Cole, Buena Vista Social Club, Amel Larrieux, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry, Little Walter and other artists from Chess Records. They also visited The Beatles exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Cullman Center, attended the Motown Musical, and tried their hand at drumming, songwriting, musical-writing and story-writing.

Musical Theater Workshop teacher Gerard Doyle says his students are making great strides in their understanding of telling a story through dialogue and song. On March 14, the class will perform the opening number from the musical Pippin.

The J.R.R. Tolkien Middle-Earth class is reading the Hobbit and using their experience as a basis for discussions of sustainability as it relates to cultural heritage, environment, and technology.

Students in the Making Life a Little Greener class have visited area farms and greenhouses, where they have learned about composting, hydroponics, and planting seeds. As a final project, students will formalize a proposal for a greenhouse at Ross School.


In addition to travel and on-campus courses M-Term students have the opportunity to partake in independent study during the term. One student doing independent study is Livia Azevedo, who is interning for an architectural firm and studying Art Deco architecture in South Miami Beach, Florida. Another student, Jordyn Moncur, is spending the time as an intern in the fashion industry in New York City.

OFF-CAMPUS COURSE BLOGS Adventure on the South Pacific: Founder’s Trip to French Polynesia  Read blog The Coastal Ecology of St. John, U.S. Virgin Island  Read blog Ethnomusicology in Cuba  Read blog An Exploration of the Culture, History, and the Environment of Panama  Read blog Hiking the Ridgeway: Sustainable Travel on the Oldest Road in Europe  Read blog Isolated Like an Island in the Planetary Sea: Myanmar  Read blog RSTA Travels to Greece: The Olympics and the Meaning of Sport  Read blog Grades 7/8: Ethnology and Sustainable Ecology in Belize  Read blog

Innovation Lab Tackles Advanced Robotics and Engineering Challenges

DSC_2250 In recent weeks, the Innovation Lab @Ross has been building robots, evaluating National Geographic engineering challenges, and experimenting with Google Glass. Dr. Dave Morgan, Innovation Lab director and dean of science at Ross School, talked with Ross School News about cool things in the works for this specialized academy.

Innovation Lab @Ross is described as an academy for advanced students who are passionate about science, mathematics, engineering, media, and technology. Tell us about what students experience in the program. There are three main areas of focus. First, we offer specialized electives—from programming courses to marine science to welding. All provide hands-on opportunities to invent, engineer, and test designs. Second, students take a Systems course, where they learn about chaos theory and programming models, and how this knowledge can be applied to real-world scenarios. Third, along with Urban Reininger, our director of instructional technology, I offer direction, knowledge, and tools throughout the school year to help students complete independent projects. They’re currently working on some pretty amazing projects, including a liquid nitrogen–cooled computer and hydrogen fuel cells, and studying medical applications of 3D printing.

What's new at Innovation Lab @Ross? In February, National Geographic asked us to evaluate its new Engineering Exploration Challenge. The students investigated real-life challenges explorers face such as designing a camera to withstand an animal attack, creating a wearable power system that can generate electricity to charge devices, and constructing a camera that can be raised and lowered into a forest canopy.

We also recently got our hands on some new technology, including Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and developer kits and two pairs of Google Glass. The M-Term students in Mo’orea are currently using Google Glass to document the marine life specimens they collect and to take photos and video of their adventures.

What’s coming up for the Innovation Lab @Ross? We’ll of course continue with our robotics projects, building advanced robots with more complex navigation functions such as ultrasonic and infrared sensors and “behavioral” skills. Urban will explore the ethics of robotic design with the students. For example, robots of the future may be capable of providing medical assistance or cars will drive themselves. It’s a question of, “Just because I can build this, should I?”

The program has grown substantially in the first year and a half, and Urban and I have noted a significant increase in the complexity of the independent projects. The expertise, passion and confidence with which the students are inventing and programming is impressive.

As the program gets more sophisticated, we’ll do more engineering challenges, hackathons, and competitions. We’re thrilled that renovations are under way on the lab’s new site at 26 Goodfriend Drive, which will house workshops and electronic labs and give Innovation Lab @Ross room to grow.

M-Term Students Explore, Observe, Create, and Study with Masters

IMG_8461 The 2014 Midwinter Term, or M-Term, began on February 24 and runs through March 14. M-Term is a time when Ross Upper School students and teachers are able to work intensively in classes or on individual projects. The courses provide in-depth studies of subjects that may lead to possible college and career paths, volunteer opportunities, or recreational pursuits.


The students are currently immersed in their studies both overseas and in our local communities. Students who traveled to in Mo’orea, French Polynesia, spent their first days getting acquainted with the Tahitian culture, customs, and people, including the mayor of Faa’a, who introduced the class to what some consider the most beautiful church in French Polynesia. The class also toured U.C. Berkeley’s Gump Research Station, where they will assist with marine science studies during their stay.


The Ethnomusicology in Cuba course is exposing students to opportunities to learn about the history of Cuba’s music and arts, including early Cuban dance and Afro-Cuban culture. In London, England, students have already packed their first days with activity, exploring Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and Covent Garden. They also walked down the Thames Embankment and Fleet Street to hear Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Next, they will begin their 87-mile (140-km) hike along The Ridgeway Trail.


The Ross School Tennis Academy students arrived in Athens, Greece, and are excited to learn more about the history of the Olympics and sports. In Belize, seventh and eighth graders kicked off their M-Term with studies of various cultures, languages, and ethnic groups in Central America.


Students taking on-campus courses or who have not yet embarked on their M-Term travels cleaned East Hampton beaches, observed local birds and wildlife, and conducted engineering experiments in the Innovation Lab. Arts and Community class students made box art with local artist David Slater.

Emma Engel

Several students are pursuing independent study courses, including sophomore Emma Engel who was accepted to the prestigious Martha Graham Company's All-City Panorama Project. During her Independent “Dance Immersion” course she will be rehearsing and taking ballet and modern dance classes. The program will culminate with four performances, which will be filmed and submitted as her M-Term project.

OFF-CAMPUS COURSE BLOGS Adventure on the South Pacific: Founder’s Trip to French Polynesia  Read blog The Coastal Ecology of St. John, U.S. Virgin Island  Read blog Ethnomusicology in Cuba  Read blog An Exploration of the Culture, History, and the Environment of Panama  Read blog Hiking the Ridgeway: Sustainable Travel on the Oldest Road in Europe  Read blog Isolated Like an Island in the Planetary Sea: Myanmar  Read blog RSTA Travels to Greece: The Olympics and the Meaning of Sport  Read blog Grades 7/8: Ethnology and Sustainable Ecology in Belize  Read blog