Division I Explores the Stories We Tell

By 7th grader Grace

An empty white backdrop. A triangle enters, it moves around for a few moments until a circle joins it. The triangle moves closer towards the circle and then, with its top point, pushes the circle into the corner of a rectangle. The circle bumps into the walls of the rectangle.

This is the Heider-Simmel demonstration, a brief animation of a few shapes randomly moving around a white backdrop. But, as research shows, nearly every person who views it forms elaborate stories around the shapes.  

Triangle, what a jerk, huh? Who just shoves someone around like that?
Aww, the poor little circle, so defenseless.

A few miscellaneous moments are almost instantaneously morphed into a full-fledged story in our minds, decked out with a protagonist, antagonist, motivations, heroes, villains, and a complete story arc.

Why do we do this? Why do we seem to create stories out of every miniscule piece of information that we receive? We seem to quickly form associations and judgments around only a few cues, like size, movement, speed, and space. So we create stories about almost everything we perceive on a daily basis – consider the cloud that looks like a dinosaur, or the two leaves that look like they’re chasing each other down the street.   

But our human propensity towards stories doesn’t end there. Stories also sculpt our perspective on the world. Stories teach us things. They bind us together, they create resilience and empathy, and they give us a glimmer of insight into others experiences. Stories matter.

For the last few months, the Division I Humanities class has been studying how exactly stories affect us, why we tell them so compulsively to ourselves and others, and how we can use them as a tool for teaching. We participated in the Heider-Simmel Demonstration ourselves, and explored assumptions that we made about the shapes, including their gender or emotional motivations.

Then, we discussed how stories can teach lessons and values, and we crafted our own stories centered on a lesson that we think is relevant to younger children. (The characters that we developed in the stories varied from a wasteful 10-year-old to a racoon fast food worker rebelling against a racoon tyrant.) Doria Hughes, a professional storyteller (now that's a pretty cool job!) taught us techniques for presenting our stories so they were memorable – one of the most important aspects of any story.

After practicing them in class for a few weeks, we performed our stories for 3rd and 4th graders from Neighborhood School. Then, the younger students were asked to retell our stories, and we were surprised at how easily they could mimic our narratives and characters, even using specific phrasing and tones of voice. (Thanks, Doria!)

Now, we are exploring how stories affect the way we see ourselves. We’re recording stories with family members and writing thesis essays on how characters in American Born Chinese and Gracefully Grayson were influenced by stories. Throughout all of these endeavors, we have to remember one thing: stories matter.

Sharks, Seals, and M&Ms: Division II MST Explores Woods Hole

By MST teacher Tasha Greenwood

On Friday Oct 20th, students from Division 2 Math, Science, and Technology class took a field trip to Woods Hole on Cape Cod. This tiny town in Falmouth is most famous for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), one of the premiere marine research organizations in the world. We spent the day with an organization called Zephyr Marine Education, which focuses on bringing the experience of marine research and exploration to students from around the state.

We began the day with a two-hour “research cruise” with Zephyr staff, deploying instruments and collecting data in the same fashion as a professional marine science expedition. We deployed a mooring with a data logger to look at depth versus temperature and pressure. The mooring was eventually recovered via an acoustic signal, much like the types of sonar we have been studying in class. We towed a camera to check out the eel grass and sargassum habitats, and a dredge to collect creatures. The highlights from the dredge included a horseshoe crab, sea stars, hermit crabs, spider crabs,  and multitudes of purple urchins. We also towed a plankton net, and examined light attenuation through the water column with a fun experiment featuring M&Ms! Perhaps the most exciting wildlife encounter, though, was the group of seals hanging out on the rocks at low tide.

We ate lunch in the town of Woods Hole, and then made our way back to Zephyr to play with augmented reality sandboxes, upon which is a projection of topography that shifts based on your movement of the sand. You can add rainwater to fill lakes and oceans and create waves.

Our day ended with a tour of the WHOI Exhibit Center. One of the most exciting parts of the museum is an AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle), which was designated to record video of sharks in their natural habitat. However, the sharks ended up biting the AUV and there is footage of the entire encounter! Visitors can touch the actual AUV which is on display. There was also a replica of the deep-sea submersible research unit Alvin. We tried to fit all of Div 2 into Alvin but – even though we’re a small group – there wasn’t quite enough space in the tiny unit.

Back in the classroom, we analyzed data from various deployments and connected this information to what we have been studying in oceanography. As our learning progresses, these applications of marine research will be put to use in other projects, and culminate in the building of Sea Perches at the end of the year.

Using History to Define Us

By Humanities teacher Nathan Sokol-Margolis

In 1707, Reverend John Williams, the minister of Deerfield, MA published his narrative The Redeemed Captive. This text, which relates the story of Williams’s and his family’s capture by Mohawks and the French during the Deerfield Raid of 1704, became a classic of early American literature and was key in perpetuating a two-dimensional perception of the conflict between Indian and English, between “savage” and “civilized.” For our Division II Humanities class, Constitution Nation, this moment in history is a case study for how individuals use stories to help them organize and coalesce into groups.

This past week, after studying 17th century Deerfield (previously know as Pocumtuck), students traveled there and spent the night in the “Old Indian House,” a replica of John Sheldon’s house, which was one of the few homes to survive the raid of 1704.

Starting off at the summit of Wequamps, renamed by the English to Sugarbush, students looked out over the Connecticut River Valley and discussed why the land was contested by so many groups. They listened to the ancient story of the Amiskwôlowôkoiak (the People of the Beaver-tail Hill) and heard of a people that settled the land at least 10,000 years ago. From there, they met with David Brule, a local who helped the Nolumbeka Project gain protection for Wissatinnewag, an Indian village. Wissatinnewag is the Algonquin word for “shining hill.” It is a holy site that had been inhabited for thousands of years, and it is the site where, in the aftermath of King Philip’s War in 1676, hundreds of non-combatants were killed by colonial militia led by William Turned. This event is one of the key moments that led to the Native population raiding Deerfield in 1704.

After speaking with Brule, students went to the “Old Indian House,” changed into colonial garb, and lived a colonial life for 16 hours. Working together, the students did chores such as shelling beans and carding cotton. They cooked dinner in a walk-in fireplace, and they told stories about the raid late into the night. The next morning, students made breakfast together and played traditional colonial games. They also got to experience multiple first-person narratives from the perspective of raid survivors. After breakfast and clean-up, students changed back into their 21st century garb and went to the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Museum, where they saw the original Sheldon Door that the raiders hacked at to get at the English colonists. They examined the language used then to talk about that moment in history (the Deerfield Massacre), versus the language used now (the Deerfield Raid), and discussed the power of perspective in giving meaning to a group of people.

Now that students are back in the classroom, they are doing primary source research on the many groups in New England during the 18th century. Once this research is finished, students will craft narratives to share with others in an effort to explore how we take the past and manipulate it to explain our present. Stay tuned for updates on the project!

Division 2 Students Respond to Meridian's New Cell Phone Policy

By 8th grader Luca

This year, for the first time since Meridian was founded, cell phones and music are no longer permitted within school hours on school property. When the new rule was announced, there were many different responses from the Meridian student body. Many students felt that the teachers were doing this as punishment for past actions, but the faculty stated otherwise. The students had respected previous policies well, they said, but over the summer, teachers did research on how cell phones change the environment of schools and how listening to music while doing work decreases productivity. In order to explain this research to the school community, Science teacher Stephanie Kinkel and Humanities teacher Catherine Epstein created this animated video. We’re now about a month into the school year, and I checked in with my fellow Division 2 – or 8th grade – students to see how folks have been feeling about the policy.

The first person I talked to was Merrick, a new 8th grader at Meridian. She believes that this rule is actually helpful. “Not having your phone in front of you all the time really is less distracting. At my old school, everyone had their phones out and that made it a lot harder to not procrastinate.” Merrick also brought up that when it's enforced for everyone, it is much easier to follow. Some other students agreed with this point, saying that they don’t feel the pressure to always check their phone when they’re just not allowed to.

Although some students agree with the rule, many do not, including 8th graders Elliot and Noah. “It’s terrible! When I want to check the homework portal or use a calculator because I forgot my computer, I can’t!” Elliot said. “Plus, music helps me focus and get motivated to do my work! The rule is totally unfair.” Noah agreed that yes, music helps him drown out the people around him, and that it's a helpful tool. Merrick, along with 8th grader Lila, also mentioned that the banning of music during work time was the one part of the rule that really irritated them.

At this point, it seems that the controversy is less around whether or not students should be able to use their phones, but more if they can listen to music while they work. Many students say they just want to listen to music, citing that it is creative expression and it it helps them focus, relax, and feel motivated to work. The students and faculty will continue discussing the current policy, and students will have an opportunity to air their feedback at an all-school assembly in January.

Division Three Takes a Trip: An Adventure on Boston’s Freedom Trail

By 9th grader Maya

On a warm Wednesday a few weeks ago, the entire Division 3 class went to Boston’s famous Freedom Trail. Although many students had been there before, I had never had the chance to go. As a part of exploring how history is told, each of us was given a single site on the trail to study. This trip was a bit of a fact-finding mission where we had to pay attention to our specific site in preparation for exploring what stories were told and what stories were not. Because of this focus, I like to think I got a special tour because of all the weird and obscure questions we were asking.

We started off at the Boston Common, which happens to be my site for the project. From there, we continued to the State House, learning about the massive amount of gold it took to cover the dome. Our tour guide played the character of Thomas Hutchinson the Third, a loyalist during the revolution – as it turns out, Copley and Ruggles were also named after loyalists – and a descendant of Puritan spiritual advisor Anne Hutchinson. The tour guide was very interactive and funny, but rarely stayed in character. He would often use students to demonstrate events, like the Boston Massacre.

Because of the character our guide played, and maybe just how curious our class is, we got to see a really different side of Boston history. Was the Boston Massacre really just someone yelling “Fire!” a little too loudly? Is history absolute? Our guide really drove home the fact that every person whom he works with would tell a different story, which was a fitting lesson for our Humanities course this year: American Historiography.

Building Community: My First Trip to Camp Becket

By Division 1 student Sky

Recently, Meridian took its annual overnight trip to Camp Becket. Our journey began at 5:30am with a three-hour bus ride. Arriving to a misty and chilly morning, we got started by playing games as an entire school and then broke off into small groups to do collaborative activities.  Two activities that I really enjoyed were Camouflage and the high ropes course, but it was the high ropes course that proved to be the biggest challenge for me.  

To get to the ropes course, we had to hike for quite a long time, and when we finally got there, I thought I was too tired to do it. But our group leader, Ola, convinced me to try. There were two different courses, and I did the second one with my partner Yasein. The course looked like a huge ladder, with rungs made out of planks of wood and each one about three feet apart in height. They were connected with a long loose rope on each side, and if you pushed two planks out in opposite directions until the ropes were tight, they were about three feet apart in width. You and your partner had to climb to the top. Of course we had harnesses with rope which the people working there held onto, so that there was no chance of falling, but I was still terrified.

Eventually, Yasein and I worked out a system: I would hold the next plank out so that it was about three feet away. Then Yasein would hold onto the plank above his head and swing onto the plank I was holding and hoist himself up. He would then do the same thing I had done so I could (clumsily, it felt like) pull myself onto the plank. We soon made our way up the course, going at a steady pace. We had to stop before we got to the top because we ran out of time, but we made it far enough to touch the final plank.

The view from up there was fantastic, but looking down was very scary. I very proud of myself because at the beginning I was so scared I thought I might not do it. I didn’t want to come back down because it was so nice up there, and I was scared of letting go so they could lower me down. But I finally did, and it was a very pleasant descent.

That evening the whole school gathered around a campfire and made s’mores. We sang songs, like “Believer” by Imagine Dragons, with students on the ukulele and Jon, my MST teacher, on the fiddle. As a new student, singing “Believer” made me feel connected to the community and I’m excited to go back to Becket next year!

Spirit Week: A Fun, Competitive, and Entertaining Time for All!

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Zayna

For five days each year, Meridian celebrates what we call “Spirit Week.” For the first four days of the week, everyone dresses up in a different theme each day. This year, the themes were  Evil Doppelgänger, Monochromatic, Dress Like a Meridianite, and Twins and Triplets. On Evil Doppelgänger day, students and teachers dressed like nefarious version of themselves. They wore black, chokers, make-up, wigs, fishnet tights, and more! On Monochromatic Day, we each wear only one color, and get bonus points for socks and shoes. On Dress Like a Meridianite Day, each person dresses like another person in the Meridian community. On Twins and Triplets Day, people work in pairs or trios to dress identically.

Following these costumed days, the competition gets serious at Field Day, which includes games like soccer, tug-of-war, and obstacle courses. That takes up about half the day, and then we eat foods like watermelon, crackers, Goldfish, pretzels, cookies, and juice. Finally, Josh buys everyone ice cream from an ice cream truck.

Teams are split up by Community Groups, multi-age groups that students stay in for their whole time at Meridian. Community Groups get points for dressing up and then for every game they win on Field Day. The team who wins gets a trophy, a 3-D printed Cuttlefish, which is the Meridian mascot.  

This year, the all-school winners were The Rangos, and their victory gave the group much to reflect upon. “Over the centuries-long history of Spirit Week, the Rangos have seen many triumphs and challenges,” said Nathan, The Rangos leader. “From our early days of group formation through our steady First Friday Food showing, the Rangos have proven time and time again that we are a powerful force at Meridian. Although winning the Cuttlefish Cup on Field Day was quite an achievement, we refuse to be defined by this moment and will continue to raise the bar for what it means to be a Community Group at Meridian.”

Challenge accepted, Rangos!

 

Sea Perch: A Real-World Experience of the Scientific Process

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Elliot

Many classes at Meridian change year to year, but Sea Perch is an annual project for Division II MST students. For this endeavor, groups of 8th graders engineer and create a remotely operated submarine.

First, student pairs come up with a question that they strive to answer through submarine experiments at the Charles River. Some students collect water samples and test it for nitrates and phosphates, while others study the current differences. With this data, they write a lab report about how they got the water samples and the results. As MST student Emi said, “Sea Perch is a unique and an interesting learning tool that helps us as students really learn more about the scientific process.”

 

With a "Front Pages Project," Division I Analyzes Contemporary News

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Lila

In the final trimester of Media & Journalism, Division I's Humanities class, students analyzed how contemporary news is reported. First, each student was assigned a different news outlet -- like The New York Times, The BBC, or The National Review -- and took screenshots of its front page every day for one week. They also recorded the top four headlines and bylines from that front page. Then, students split into three groups that focused on examining issues of race, gender or topics reported.

The race group focused on questions like: "How many front page stories are by reporters of color?" and "How many people of color are featured in photographs?" The gender group concentrated on questions like "How many media outlets are owned by women?" and "How many front page headlines mention women's names?" The topics group explored questions like: "How many times does the word 'Trump' come up in headlines?" and "How many front page headlines reference violence?" After all of this data collecting, each group created an infographic -- some on the computer, and some by hand -- to share their findings with the community at Exhibitions. Click on the images below to see larger images of their completed work!

Zoos, Farms, and Writing Centers: Seniors Gain Experience at Internships

By Division I Media & Journalism reporter Jesse

For the last few weeks of the year, the school building has almost seemed empty. This is because most of the seniors are off doing internships for credit, rather than taking classes, for the last month of school. The internships range in location and focus, and are geared toward the individual interests of each student.

Max interns at 826 Boston, where he tutors kids in reading. Tara is at a farm in Maine. Twyla is working at the Franklin Park Zoo. Madi helps with research, teaching, and organization at the United Nations Association of Greater Boston. As Max said, the experience of interning outside school is extremely valuable: “It does a good job of contextualizing the work you do at Meridian.” He mentioned only a few downsides, particularly that there is still an interesting curriculum for his classmates, which he doesn’t get to experience, and that it feels a little strange returning to Meridian while he’s working elsewhere.

Finally, Max described how, because it is so different from school, and it’s very challenging, interning helps them feel like there is something new and exciting to do all the way up until they graduate.