Last Thursday night, PCS faculty visited the studio of artist and Upsculpter, Cindy Pease Roe, for some emergent, place-based professional development.  With the help of some serious glue guns, we transformed trash collected from our beaches into personality-filled whale sculptures. 

A lifelong seaside village dweller, Ms. Roe has created a trademarked practice of Upsculpting – a combination of upcycling and sculpting – that removes marine debris from the North Fork’s shores and redirects lethal plastics from reentry into our marine ecosystem.  Ms. Roe is passionate about removing debris from our waterways, where ghost fishing, entanglement, and ingestion threaten multiple species of marine life. 

The Upsculpt studio is open to the public for workshops through which Ms. Roe helps visitors create marine animal sculptures and encourages them to reduce their use of consumer plastics.  Once plastic enters the ocean ecosystem, it is very, very difficult to remove; so, the first line of defense to protect marine animals is to eliminate unnecessary plastics from our lives so that it never reaches the water.


Ms. Roe also brings her practice and her message into schools, and PCS is very much looking forward to her visit on Tuesday.  We will participate in Project Whale Tale: Upsculpt’s latest endeavor in which Ms. Roe guides students through the process of building a unique, large-scaled whale tail sculpture from marine debris and derelict fishing gear to be displayed in the community for visual and educational benefit. 

Inspired by the staff visit to Cindy’s studio and in anticipation of her PCS visit, Lower Primary students spent the day Upsculpting with the debris that we collected, sorted, tallied, logged, and washed(!) as part of our Earth Day coastal cleanup.  Each Lower Primary student started with one piece of driftwood, three pieces of marine debris, one piece of wire, and free access to a glue gun. 

The result?

The Lower Primary Upsculpting Museum opens Tuesday with Ms. Roe’s arrival and will remain on display through the end of the week, featuring: a high tech boat, a canoe, a lobster cargo boat, a doll, a dress up wand, a dog, headphones, a microphone, a water fountain sculpture, a wind-chimer, a thing-a-ma-jig, a swing-a-ma-jig, a one-eyed robot, and more. 


Learn more about Upsculpting and Cindy Pease Roe:

Her studio is located in Hanff's Boat Yard at Sterling Harbor, Greenport.

Authormegan eilers

68 pounds


You may already have heard -- 68 pounds of trash in one hour, one pound per minute --  that’s how much garbage Peconic Community School cleaned from the shore of our nearest beach last Friday. 

We removed fishing line and nets, plastic bottles and caps, aluminum cans, grocery bags, junk food wrappers, cigarette butts, buoys and boat parts, and straws, straws, and more straws.  




Marine debris is more than just an unsanitary eyesore for human visitors to the beach; as our guide, Mr. Rob DiGiovanni, lead scientist at Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, explained, it is also a danger to the fish, mammals, and birds that live in the sea and on the shore.  Marine animals are at risk from entanglement, ingestion, and contamination: lost or abandoned fish gear like lines and nets often entangle and choke animals, and plastic debris like plastic bags, cutlery, and consumer waste is often mistaken by birds and turtles for food and consumed, leading to death.  Students learned about the significance of quickly removing this debris in saving the lives of the animals living in our community.

Coastal cleanups can have an even greater and longer lasting impact if volunteers take the extra step of sorting the collected debris and logging the results in an ocean trash index or database.  The Ocean Conservancy, with whom Mr. DiGiovanni collaborates, is working to stop the flow of trash at the source before it has a chance to reach the water to choke or entangle marine animals.  By analyzing and researching the types of trash collected and logged by volunteers, the Ocean Conservancy is able to share key details about marine pollution with the public, scientific community, and decision makers to promote good policies, like the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act and its companion bill in the Senate, the Trash Free Seas Act.  It’s this type of research and analysis that is driving national movements to eliminate plastic grocery bags and the use of plastics for takeout, as well as the push to ban drinking straws from food establishments.  

Peconic Community School students carted their collected garbage back to school, and a school-wide effort to sort and tally each and every piece of debris has commenced.  We will return our results to Mr. DiGiovanni who will, in turn, log them into the Ocean Conservancy’s database.  By undertaking this additional component of the clean-up, students deepen their understanding of the relationship between human behavior and a thriving ecosystem.

click to learn more about the Clean Swell App!

click to learn more about the Clean Swell App!

We often (especially on Monday mornings) hear PCS kids talking about beach cleanups they undertake after school and over weekends with friends and family.  They swell with pride as they talk about it -- they’ve made a difference, and they know it!  How great would it be if we could help them take it a step further by logging the marine debris into a global database to influence government and industry policy?  We encourage you to participate in Ocean Conservancy's effort to compile a database of recovered marine debris.  The recent launch of their app, Clean Swell, makes it easy to add data and influence policy.   


Ocean Conservancy:

Atlantic Marine Conservation Society:

Authormegan eilers

Emergent Curriculum: Our Integrated Unit of Study

There are so many ways to approach a unit of study.  

The integrated unit of study at Peconic Community School is emergent: the specific direction of our study evolves from provocations and questions, from a dialogue between facilitators and learners.  The beginning of each trimester at PCS is an exciting time as we invite students to consider a topic or an idea and then follow them over the next several months to see where their questions lead us.      

This trimester we are studying maritime history and our current interactions with Long Island’s waterways.  While a shared theme unifies the focus of the school for the term, specific topics, practical approaches, and learning objectives are differentiated for each classroom according to developmental readiness.  

Here's a quick glimpse of some of the work emerging in these first two weeks of study:

Early Childhood began an exploration of our maritime history with literature and loose parts.  Stories of sailors and the sea inspired model lighthouses; and our youngest learners used their breath to blow paint to recreate the colors and movement of the sea on paper.    

Lower Primary students approached the waterways unit by investigating the different types of water on Earth and their relative concentrations. Students also began a study of maps and visual perspective when questions arose about Long Island's unique situation amongst bodies of fresh, salty, and brackish water.  

Middle Primary approached our maritime/waterways unit with a literal tracing of Long Island’s connection to the water: students researched our Island's first settlers and their land, and made   line drawings to illustrate how the water defines our home.  Student writers also reflected on the morality of Long Island's historic whaling industry in their core value journals.

Mrs. Timoney offered Upper Primary students a viewing of the following film as a provocation to explore the connection between people and the landscapes they inhabit – in this case, the story of a lighthouse keeper.  Students were further invited to reflect not only on the subjects of the story, but on the story itself: they discussed how the filmmakers’ choices (cinematography, ambient sound vs. soundtrack or interview) shaped the story of the lighthouse and its keeper.  (And this is just the introduction to the unit!)

This differentiated, yet thematically unified, approach to our third trimester study aligns with PCS’s overall educational model – learning for our younger students begins with open-ended exploration and discovery and progresses for our older students through to critical thinking, innovation, and an understanding of the complex interaction between people and their world.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 1.43.57 PM.png

A Day in the Life of a Lighthouse Keeper a short film by Kauri Multimedia, via National Geographic.

Authormegan eilers

This past Saturday, March 25, 2017, Peconic Community School lived and breathed its mission, vision, and name at CREATE: A Maker Fair.  Students, staff, parents, our school board, and many, many members of the wider community *made* for an incredibly successful fair.  At our home campus in Aquebogue, we hosted more than thirty makers, welcomed well over 300 attendees, enjoyed three live performances, sent dozens of children riding on a handcrafted hoverboard, and led visitors through an interactive blacklight experience.  

Hosting CREATE at our school also gave us the opportunity to open our school and classrooms to the community.   PCS co-founders Liz Casey Searl and Kathryn Casey Quigley offered visitors guided tours of our classrooms and spoke about the school's mission and practices.  CREATE: A Maker Fair coincided with the end of our second trimester of study: an exploration of making, the maker movement, and maker education.  Peconic Community School culminates each trimester with a Celebration of Learning -- family and friends are invited to the school to view presentations and displays of the student work accomplished during the trimester.  With the Celebration of Learning happening on the same day as CREATE: A Maker Fair, PCS students showcased their work to hundreds of guests.  

The atmosphere at our second annual maker fair was positively VIBRANT, and the day was a true celebration of collaboration, creativity, community, and resourcefulness.  Thank you, to each and every maker, attendee, volunteer, parent, student, staff member, and neighbor who contributed his or her energy and enthusiasm to CREATE: A Maker Fair.  It was a success in every way, and we can't wait until next year!

Authormegan eilers

history of maker education

Interestingly, Eric Seigel of the NY Hall of Science describes the experience of a Maker Faire as a “model for learning,” and specifically, a model for “a tacit, lived kind of learning.”  This lived experience, and the energy and industry generated by the Maker movement and out on display at Maker Faires has spurred a correlated movement in the educational world – maker education.  

Like the more familiar STEAM curriculum, maker education is a multi-disciplinary, project-based, and highly engaging approach to incorporating science, math, technology, and the arts.  However, maker education draws heavily on the gritty, grass roots history and culture of the Maker movement, and introduces a curriculum that is, additionally, child led, progressive, and focused on the whole child.  Further, maker education has become a fundamental commitment of the Maker Movement and its founder, Dale Dougherty.

In fact, in 2012 Dale Dougherty founded MakerED: a Maker Education Initiative which is a national non-profit organization that provides educators with the resources and training needed to implement maker education curriculum.

practice of maker education

So, what does maker education look like?  Well, it can – and does! -- look all kinds of ways, but at its core maker education looks like students using their hands to create.  In fact, Raphael Abrams, co-founder of NYC Resistor (a makerspace in Brooklyn) touts the Maker movement as “a return to the hand.”  The materials and methods vary, but maker education provides students the time, space, materials, and guidance for open ended exploration -- exploration which, in the words of Jessica Schipp of Lighthouse Creativity Lab, “combines the fields of art, technology, craft, math, and humanities into something personally driven.” 

Maker education happens in schools, libraries, musems, community centers, and homes; it happens in makerspaces filled with wires and gears and circuit boards and bots, and it happens at tables with cardboard and tape and thread and paper and batteries and play doh.  The #MakerEd manifesto offers this description (which probably rings a bell to readers who have visited a PCS classroom in action):


“When you step inside a classroom filled with makers, you enter a whirl of noise and motion: students exploding with gloriously unfeasible ideas and honing them into concrete plans.  Plans become prototypes.  Protypes fail, and designs change.  It’s true this can feel like chaos to some.  It can feel like losing control.  But, that’s precisely the point.”

-- Christa Flores, the#Makered manifesto


so, losing control is the point?

Yep.  It is. 

Well, kind of.  The point is for educators to let go of some control, to let go of their role as transmitters of knowledge so that children can assume control of their learning:  teachers let go so that students can grab hold. 

When educators reframe the question from “how can I deliver information” to “how can I provide a landscape where curiosity abounds?” the result is what Jay Silver, in his essay “Trees of Knowledge,” calls “vibrant learners.”  Vibrant learners are both curious and capable – they are motivated not only to ask questions, but to seek answers – and our responsibility as educators shifts from providing those answers to offering the tools and materials and guidance for students to construct their own answers.

And here, maker education adopts the educational philosophy of “constructionism.”  Constructionism, which is Seymour Papert’s expansion of Jean Piaget’s ideas (constructivism), posits that “learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world.”  Engaging children’s hands in the stuff of their world – in the parts of a motor, in a basket of thread and fabric, around the handles of saws and soldering irons – gives them agency over the materials in their lives as well as their learning.  When children are free to take apart and put together the objects in their everyday lives, when they are able to manipulate parts into wholes and dissemble wholes into parts, they become responsible for creating and shaping their own meaning and understanding.

maker education: child led, progressive, and whole child

But maker education isn’t just about giving children access to raw materials and tools so that they can make a physical representation of what we as educators are teaching them.  Yes, hands-on learning is powerful, but maker education aims even higher – and we will talk about three facets of maker education that elevate the practice beyond craft and which are particularly relevant at PCS: maker education is child led, it is progressive, and it incorporates the whole child.

resources and sources

Raphael Abrams, NYC Resistor, interviewed as a part of:

Jessica Schipp, Lighthouse Creativity Lab: “Making (in school): A Letter of Recommendation.

MakerEd Manifesto: Christa Flores, Patrick Benfield, Amy Atkins, #makeredmanifesto.

Constructionism and tinkering:

Authormegan eilers

What is Making, anyway?

“Making” is making. 

No, really, it is.  “Making” with a capital M and/or quotation marks really does mean making, like making things … with your hands … out of … stuff.  Traditionally, the term “Making” referred to technological pursuits; as in the definition of Makers offered by the National Science Foundation: “modern day tinkerers of DIY techonology.”  In fact the Maker Movement began with rogue computer programmers.  Right – hackers.  And the first Makers were often self-proclaimed computer geeks, engineers, robot whizzes, electricians, and hobbyists hunched over desks in basements and garages, toiling alone under the beam of a single lamp with wires and soldering irons late into the night ….  You get the picture, right?