The Block Island Times

Eighth graders enjoy a day at Brown University

And think about the future
By Lisa Stiepock | Mar 14, 2014
Photo by: Lisa Stiepock

When we asked eighth graders returning recently from a field trip to Brown University what they liked most about the excursion they answered, not surprisingly, with all the peripheral activities: the hotel, the ice skating, the restaurant, the mall.

It was the next layer of enthusiastic responses that was most telling, however: those performances at the end (especially the a cappella groups), the dancers, the hands-on stuff in the lab, holding the urchin and probing the egg…

That last was in reference to using a computer mouse to maneuver a needle that was under a microscope, but visible on the computer, to inject sea urchin sperm into sea urchin egg. “We watched fertilization happen in a sea urchin,” explained one of the kids.

This was all part of a three-tiered lesson in DNA tracking at a Brown University biology lab, which in turn was part of a day that saw middle school students from across Rhode Island taking part in classes and performances at Brown to kick off a celebration of the university’s 250th anniversary.

Paired with students from Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence, the Block Island eighth graders attended two hour-long classes, “What sea stars and sea urchins can teach us about ourselves in the biology lab” and “Unrolling History: The Garibaldi Panorama,” a lesson in art history. The students also were treated to lunch at the Sharpe Refectory and to performances by a number of Brown arts groups, from spoken word and comic opera to Chinese Lion dance and precision stepping.

The middle school students were asked by their Brown host students to “be inspired” and to “put their phones away and stop texting.” Our kids accomplished both. The one time this chaperone thought she was going to have to ask a Block Island student to put his phone away it turned out he was showing his classmate the photo that came out of the DNA tracing machine and explaining what it meant.

And inspired? All agreed they were. They appreciated, in particular, they said being able to see so many of the different performance arts groups and the hands-on nature of their classroom experiences.

The folks at Brown had asked the students to think about a number of questions during their day on campus, questions framed around Brown’s history and values of “independent thinking, freedom of conscience, and free inquiry,” among other things, as well as thinking about whether they thought it was valuable to go to college. We think the organizers would be pleased with this answer from one of the Block Island students: “College is a good place to find the education you need to make a positive impact on the world.”

While waiting for the ferry home, we chaperones asked our students their impressions of the day and how their ideas about Brown University had changed from the beginning of the day to the end — if indeed they had. Here are some of the answers:

“I liked how everything was hands on, not a lot of lecturing.”

“Before, whenever someone mentioned Brown I thought ‘small,’ but now I’ve seen it is big. I liked everything and I can see myself being there studying architecture.”

“I liked doing the hands-on things and meeting people. It made me think I might like to go to Brown, if not Julliard; I could see myself doing music there, the step dancing, and biology.”

“Before I thought of it as very academic and classroom-oriented. I didn’t know it was founded by free thinkers and there’s much more creativity in the place than I thought — and really nice facilities! I could see myself there.”

“I thought it was smaller and less international than it is.”

The students said they were not only inspired, but also grateful. They wanted to thank everyone at Brown of course, but also wanted to thank Block Island School Principal Kristine Monje for arranging so many logistics so Block Islanders could participate, such as the transportation and the hotel. And they wanted to thank Block Island School Friends for helping fund the extra activities they enjoyed so much, including ice skating in the rink outside the Biltmore Hotel, dinner at Jacky’s Galaxy, a pan-Asian restaurant where they ordered eel sushi and crab rangoon, and bowling while waiting for the ferry home.


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