Waking up with the birds: in the field with Eric Aaronian

Some of the most exciting and personal academic work at Moses Brown has emerged from the faculty cohort plan, a professional development and evaluation program. In a year of transformational study, a cohort of veteran teachers sets goals, serves as resources for one another’s evaluations and shares professional development plans at year’s end. At the heart of the program are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. The benefit to students is clear: teachers continuously deepen their expertise, refine their curriculum, and bring the latest research back to the classroom to improve the learning experience.


Upper school science department chair Eric Aaronian had every reason to be confident about launching a new advanced course. Since global warming is big news, environmental science students are eager to grapple with the problem and seek solutions for the planet. Frequent field trips, a bonus. But departures at dawn… before breakfast? For teenagers?

When your subject is birds, you’ve got to get out early. Ornithology is Eric’s new field-based course, to begin this spring. The class will spend time outdoors in different habitats to see as many different species as possible. “In this course, the field is our classroom, along with the laboratory and Harkness table,” Eric explains, referring to the student-driven, discussion-based pedagogy embraced at MB. “The field component makes this course the first of its kind we’ve offered in at least ten years.”

Throughout last year, Eric got his ducks in a row: planned the curriculum, scouted locations, budgeted for a spotting scope and binoculars, and worked with administration on implementation: “how do you plan a course with six or seven field trips of several hours, while not interrupting other classes?” He crafted the course description, aimed at kids who enjoy science and the great outdoors: Field identification of locally common species will be emphasized through required early morning field trips to varied habitats where winter finches, waterfowl, shorebirds and spring migrants can be studied and observed. Prerequisites: one year of introductory biology, energy, enthusiasm and interest.

“For students, this course can open up an unknown – but easily accessible – part of our natural world,” Eric says. “Certainly, they may never have seen it at this time of day!” he laughs. “Field work takes time and patience, but the potential rewards are great, both for us as individuals and for essential habitat, both near and far.”

After registration, Eric was pleased to find a good-sized flock of students enrolled in Ornithology. Some teenagers are morning people, after all. Dress warm, kids, and don’t forget the binoculars.



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