Thursday, April 24, 2014

Library Foxes

This spring, we've had the unique pleasure of observing local wildlife--a family of foxes whose den is right outside our tech workroom!

We first spotted the foxes on April 1st, when our laptop repair guru Gary Spencer spotted a parent fox out his window, looked down, and saw a number of tiny fox kits tumbling around in the snow (yes, we also had snow on April Fool's Day!):

Gary took this picture from his workroom window, looking down
at the fox den below.  This was our first glimpse of the den and we
later determined that this was papa fox (mama fox has lighter fur
on her back and legs).  Both fox parents help care for the kits.
We've known foxes (and other wildlife, like turkeys) lived in the woods behind school and we've caught occasional glimpses of them, but we had no idea the fox den was so close by--literally nestled right up against the school in a retaining wall behind the library and science wing.  We immediately became obsessed, because foxes!

We set up a "fox cam" with streaming on Ustream, a free online streaming service, and broadcasted the stream in the Commons so students could observe.  It was a few days before we spotted the foxes again and we feared they had played a cruel April Fool's Day joke on us, but we knew they were still there by the occasional dead rabbit or crow that would appear (and then disappear) on the hill outside the window.  A few people caught glimpses of the foxes via the fox cam (including a suspenseful interval where the mama fox seemingly couldn't decide if she wanted to feed her kits crow for dinner or not, and kept moving the dead bird around on the hill while her babies played below), but it wasn't until the next week that we saw the foxes during the school day again.

Four fox kits seen from the library office window.  The babies were not
bothered by a few humans peering out the window at them, though the
parent foxes would not approach the den if they saw us watching them.
The foxes began to move their kits!  Online research revealed that gray foxes usually move their kits a few weeks after their birth, to a bigger den, though we concluded that our increased notice of the foxes likely contributed to their move as well.  Gray foxes are extremely well-urbanized and can exist quite well in cities, but they're still very wary of humans.

So we watched as, over the course of about an hour, the mother fox returned to the den again and again.  The kits (seven of them!) would tumble out to nurse and play, and then eventually the mother would select one kit to carry away with her.

Mama fox approaches the den...
...picks up a kit...
...nimbly climbs up the retaining wall...
...and trots away to the new den.
Fox kits play outside the den between their
mother's visits to move them to the new den.
Soon all seven kits had been carried away.  Lizz spotted the new den on the other side of the school, tucked into a neighbor's large, hilly, overgrown backyard.  When we got a couple more inches of snow last week, we spotted more fox prints, though the foxes seem to have permanently abandoned the den below our window.  We hope they'll be back again next year, but will not be surprised if they cease to use a den that can be so easily observed by people now--an unfortunate consequence of the renovation, since previously the space was arranged in a way that did not have a person working near this window all day long!  

The fox cam was a fantastic way to allow the community to experience the foxes without being too intrusive.  We streamed footage to the Commons and were able to record much of the removal of the kits to the new den to show later:
  • Video of the mother fox repeatedly moving kits: (fox footage from 0:00 to about 2:30, from 9:10 to 12:05, and from 18:42 to 20:43; no fox action after that mark) 
In short, we absolutely adored our library foxes, and the obsession lives on in our office even weeks later:

Mama fox.  Isn't she pretty?
We also used the fox as our poster-animal for this year's library item recall (final due date May 2nd, so Lizz and I can do inventory!)


Today (May 13th) we spotted a fox kit scampering around in the grass outside Gary's window, very near the old den.  The kit hopped around for a bit and when it finally spotted us (oohing and aahing from the window while trying to take pictures with our iPhones), it climbed up the retaining wall to gaze at us briefly from the cover of the woods before heading off in the direction of the new den.  

The kit was clearly still a baby (not even half the size of a grown fox) but now has the typical red coat of its parents.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Madness

We did not get caught up in basketball March Madness.  Instead, we got caught up in our very own Book Madness, a trend that seemed especially popular among libraries and school and other book-related communities this year., because obviously Book Madness is much more fun!

We pitted required reading against recreational reading.  We only had a couple weeks, since spring break occupies the last two weeks of March, so we began with a bracket of sixteen--eight books we selected from class reading lists to compete against eight of our most popular fiction books.

The above image is the poster we made and posted around school; students came to the library and voted on the first round and selected their final pick using the form below.

Each round of voting was open for a day or two over the next two weeks; as the brackets were narrowed down, we made new voting forms for each round.

Round 2   

Round 3

Final Round

We had fun tweeting and posting about the results.  Westeros' got nothing on Hogwarts; Katniss creamed Tris.  No one wants to hang out with Holden Caulfield, especially when Jay Gatsby's around to throw a party.  And not even Lady Macbeth could pull one over on Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.  But Harry Potter won it all, of course--no surprise there, even with a last-minute faculty meeting bumping up the votes for poor old Frankenstein, considering that our students are the generation that grew up with Harry and company.  We had about 20 students, teachers, and other staff voting each day, so it was a successful and entertaining little contest.  Two students came closest to predicting the final path to victory, and they were rewarded with copies of Winger by Andrew Smith and Patrick Ness' new novel More Than This.  We'll do it again next year, maybe pitting the classics against science fiction, or popular nonfiction against fiction.  Book madness!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cross-Curricular, Cross-Campus Collaboration

The Blake Upper School is right down the street from the Walker Art Center.  We have an excellent relationship with this neighboring institution (Blake students get in free, for example, and teachers are often able to participate in private tours of new shows) and we take advantage of our closeness as often as possible.

It's usually art classes visiting the Walker, but when the museum opened an exhibit of Edward Hopper's drawings and sketches highlighting his artistic process, Lizz saw a unique opportunity to involve one of our favorite teachers and her 10th grade U.S. history classes.

Having just completed their big U.S. history projects, these sophomore classes were in the perfect position to appreciate the idea of process:  the research, notes, and early drafts that come before the final paper is complete and ready to turn in.  But focusing on the research process was just one way for the students to access the Hopper exhibit.  They're also history students, and Hopper's art reflects a specific period in time when he was working--that of the 1930s and '40s when America was experiencing the Great Depression and then World War II.

Margi went a step farther and called on a Middle School art teacher to Skype in to her class (which she held in the library classroom) and give a presentation about Hopper's art and its context in both American history and art history.  Students were encouraged to use various lens through which to analyze the art, and to think about the differences in objectivity and subjectivity that apply to historians and to art historians.

After art and history had had a chance to interact through the guidance of a Middle School art teacher and an Upper School history teacher, the students walked a block to the Walker, broke into small groups with guides, and toured the exhibit.

Just an all-around excellent example of collaboration.