By: Becky Blumenthal
Lower School Science Teacher
While students in other schools are often presented with classes that divide the world into distinct disciplines such “science,” “social studies,” and “math,” the Lower School, like all of Berkeley Carroll, unites these disciplines to reflect the interwoven nature of our world. Sometimes we plan tirelessly to make this happen, and sometimes a day in the field reveals this naturally.
Throughout fourth grade, science and social studies cross paths. In the fall, students learn in social studies about the native people who lived in this area before European contact, focusing on how their environment influenced their lifestyle. Simultaneously in science, we study the Hudson River watershed, examining at the geology and ecology that shaped the lives of the same groups of people.
Our spring studies of New Amsterdam and simple machines, respectively, came together serendipitously through a field trip to the South Street Seaport Museum. A trip on the Pioneer sailboat, built in 1885, began with a focus on simple machines. Students examined the pulleys and worked together to raise the hefty sails, feeling how the mechanical advantage of the pulleys allowed them to do so.
Other activities furthered students exploration of the simple machines on board and gave them a feel for how these simple machines allowed the boat to function. Then, as we sailed back towards land, our guide focused our attention on the history of such boats in the development of New Amsterdam and later New York City. She asked students why the city was built where it is, and how the availability of water for transportation translated to a shipping industry and the all the commerce that that came with it. A walking tour through the streets of what was formerly New Amsterdam taught students that the street names reflect the original natural landscape of the island: Water Street was the original shore line; Maiden Lane was where young women would come to fetch water because there was a stream there at the time.
This trip revealed the power of a field trip to not only to bring classroom studies to life, but also to reunite academic disciplines and illuminate their multi-dimensional connections.