Building robots is an art

By Ben C., ‘16


Ben C.

Building robots, to me at least, is more of an art form than an engineering challenge. Analyzing the competitive robotics season from the outside looking in would make my opinion look ridiculous; indeed, the majority of the months spent preparing for competitions is devoted to solving each engineering challenge that stands between any given present and ready machine, and conversations about art in the Lab are generally limited to commenting on a class or are drowned out by the sounds of cutting metal. However, my many hours in assembling subsystems and staring at a laptop with an expression that could illustrate the dictionary’s entry on confusion, have provided enough evidence to back up my claim. Building robots is an art, and engineering, programming, testing, and tweaking are all simply points of a fluid process which never produces a truly finished machine.

My robotics team outside of school keeps a sign on the bulletin board which proclaims “DONE is a four-letter word!” It advertises a mentality that we ignored last year, the first one ever in which Moses Brown fielded a high school robotics team. In the first few weeks of the season, we dreamed up a design capable of doing everything there was to do on the field, said it was “Done,” then proceeded to spend months failing to animate our pile of aluminum and steel the way we imagined we could during those early days in September. We scored in the single digits every match, and broke vital gears every time we went out. The design might have been done, but our robot wasn’t.


US robotics team members Lyle T. ’18 and Isaac B. ’18.

This year we promised to be more fluid, more flexible with our designs even as we cut them into rigid metal. We spent our first weeks carefully probing the game manual for any loopholes, treading the line between simplicity and effectiveness with utmost care. We focused on small steps each dependent on the previous ones, we prioritized, and we came up with a novel strategy. We weren’t tied to any ideas, and we celebrated every small victory. Above all, we worked.

And the robot has worked. At our first competition this year, we put up the highest score of the qualification rounds, then cruised through the elimination rounds without losing a bout. After the last match of the day, when all of the motors came to rest, the robots stopped buzzing, and the score was tallied, Team 1784A had qualified for the Southern New England Championships, set another high score of the day, and was officially the first Moses Brown robotics team to win a tournament. The best part is, the robot isn’t even done yet. Here’s to more tournaments with the Quakers on top, more work to be done, and an unending resistance to that four letter word.


The bottom of the periodic table of elements isn’t ragged any more

By Jeff Cruzan, US math instructor

We still don’t know all there is to know about chemistry, and we were reminded of that in early January as the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) confirmed that the last four new elements of the seventh row of the periodic table had been discovered (well, created, really).

On this momentous occasion, I’m reminded of a story I often share with my students: When I was finishing graduate school at U.C. Berkeley, I had the good luck to be in the right place at the right time and serve as the science and technical advisor for Disney’s remake of the movie Flubber, starring Robin Williams. I worked with the film crew, producers and actors for about four months on Treasure Island in San Francisco. In the long intervals between scenes in which Williams mimed working with the metastable plasticky goo (added later through the magic of computer graphics), I wrote parts of my Ph.D. thesis.

My job was to build laboratory sets, make things bubble and spew, and advise Mr. Williams and the director, Les Mayfield, on how the script might sound more like authentic science, complete fantasy though it was. When my students watch the film, they recognize my handwriting on the many blackboards filled with science-y scrawl.

One gag in the film was that the professor (Williams) decides that the way to control the


From Disney’s “Flubber” remake.

highly unstable Flubber, to turn it into useful energy (to make a flying car!), is by exposing it to gamma rays from a radioactive isotope. I was asked which radioactive element to use (well, fake use), and that gave me an idea.

I told the art director about Professor Glenn Seaborg, discoverer of ten elements heavier than uranium, including plutonium. Professor Seaborg was then 85, and had won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work. The scientific community – this was 1996 – was having a row with the IUPAC because there was strong sentiment to name element 106, the last of Seaborg’s discoveries “Seaborgium (Sg),” but the governing body said they couldn’t do it because an element had never been named after a living person.

It seemed pretty clear at the time that the community of chemists and physicists, an independent-minded lot who wanted to honor Seaborg while he was alive, would eventually win, and by the time we were filming Flubber, there seemed to be a lot of momentum toward that. So I proposed to the film crew that we call our isotope Seaborgium and give it the symbol Sg. What’s wrong with a little harmless science fiction? The art department made stickers and to this day you can watch the movie and see the professor uncover a glowing green isotope labeled “Sg [106]” for Seaborgium, element number 106.

But that’s not the cool part. Before we went ahead with the project, we felt that Professor Seaborg should have a say in the matter, so I went up the hill to the Lawrence Berkeley Lab to chat with him. He thought it was a great idea and he loved that it was Disney’s project. He’d actually worked personally with Walt Disney as a science advisor on the animated educational cartoon, “Our Friend the Atom” in 1956. We decided to invite him to the set for a visit, and we set a date.

Leading up to his visit, actors (Williams would win an Oscar for Good Will Hunting the following year, and costar Marcia Gay Harden would later win one for Pollack), producers, directors and crew members flooded me with questions about ‘the scientist.’ “What’s he like?” “Is he intimidating?” “He really won the Nobel Prize?” The Hollywood crowd was starstruck with the Professor, and none more than Robin Williams, a big fan of science who once told me he wanted to play Einstein in a film some day.

We sent a car and brought Professor Seaborg and his assistant to the set on Treasure Island. He recognized the giant buildings as part of the 1939 World’s fair, and for about an hour, with a crowd amassed around him on a giant soundstage and on catwalks above him, he regaled us with stories about having been science advisor to three presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon), having worked with Disney, and how he won the Nobel. It was one of those magical times that just won’t ever be reproduced, and I’m grateful to have witnessed it and to have met Seaborg.

Seaborg passed away in 1999, but I think he’d be applauding the completion of the last row of the periodic table as a great accomplishment in science.


Periodic table signed by Professor Seaborg.

What’s next for the periodic table? These big elements have to be made in something called a cyclotron, and after they’re made, they don’t last too long before the competition between the attractive forces that hold the nuclei together and the repulsive forces that try to push them apart become imbalanced and the atoms fall apart into smaller ones. Sometimes that happens in just a few thousandths of a second. But some theories (Seaborg was one proponent) suggest that as we go bigger, there might just be “islands of stability” where we create new elements that are much more stable and last longer. Very Star Trekky. Dilithium crystals, anyone?

So to our students I say, and I think the Professor would agree, we don’t know nearly all there is to know about science, and that’s the exciting part. Get out there and discover!


Jeff Cruzan

Understanding the business of food through summer camp

By Temitayo M. ’17

Chez innovation was a wonderful experience. As I arrived at the camp, I TT_webcropdidn’t know many people, but as time went on I bonded with each and every one of the people at this camp. I still keep in touch with some of the people that I met. The camp started with some ice breaking activities. We went down to the park and played games where we really get to know each other. Each day after that we would take a trip to a site where we would learn about the food industry. We visited a meat production plant, a farm, Federal Hill, and also the house of someone who sells clams.

I really enjoyed the trip to Federal Hill because I had recently been to Italy and thought that they did a very good job of making it feel like it was a piece of Italy. The colorful buildings and the general flow of that area reminded me of that country. I also enjoyed tasting the different olive oils with bread. While we had fun in these areas we also learned quite a bit. Using Federal Hill again as an example, we went into the butcher shop to witness and learn about how they raise, and cook the chickens they sell. We also received a tour from who took us into each shop to show us the details of how their store receives income and also about what they sell.

We also went to the meat production plant. Coming into this place I did TT_webcrop2not like the smell, and unlike others I didn’t get use to it, but I learned a lot about the meat. I learned that mold on the meat is a really good sign. It shows the rich age of the meat and also adds flavor. I also learned that it takes a long time for this meat to be cut and sold. Meat stays on the shelves in that factory for months.

Most of all I enjoyed the business element of this camp. After a few days went by, we began to take classes about how to start up our own company and the challenges that come with that. We learned that to run a company there needs to be key partners, resources, and activities, as well as a cost structure, customer relationships, customer segments, value propositions, and channels.

I am so thankful to have been a part of this experience it is one I will never forget. Every time I go over to that corner near India Point Park and Wickenden street, I think of the fun times I spent in that camp.

Political chat: MB students host Providence mayoral candidates in conversation about education

DSC_0189Moses Brown School and Hope High School co-hosted a conversation about education on October 8, with all three candidates for Providence’s mayoral seat. The event attracted a large crowd to the Waughtel-­Howe Field House. Moses Brown is appreciative of the time shared by candidates Vincent Cianci (Independent), Jorge Elorza (Democrat) and Daniel Harrop (Republican).

DSC_0368“A Conversation About Education” was free and open to the public, with priority access for Hope and MB students. Some even spoke to the media afterward.

The two-­hour student-­facilitated discussion differed from the traditional debate format. Students solicited and selected questions from their peers and the community, with guidance from their Government, Politics and Civics teachers. Students then posed questions to the candidates, who had the opportunity to speak DSC_0103about their values and DSC_0296policy goals. The goal for this was to generate civil dialogue; candidates could reply thoughtfully but observed time limits and were asked to refrain from personal attacks.

“Our city and state face challenges that will require long-­term solutions,” said Matt Glendinning, Head of Moses Brown School, prior to the event. “The people who will guide those efforts are today’s elementary and secondary students. The education they receive today will prepare them to lead Rhode Island. How will our political candidates prepare our children for this role? How can we educate the next generation of Rhode Islanders to be a force for positive change in our communities?”

The neighboring schools – one public, one independent – sponsor a popular annual student exchange program. This was their first civic partnership. “This is a rare opportunity for our students to engDSC_0108age firsthand in the political process,” said Beth Lantz, who teaches Civics in Action at Moses Brown. “It’s exhilarating for them to bring our curriculum to life.”

Senior Cameron C. (shown below) felt the candidates did a nice job in answering the questions brought forth from students: “They made sure to keep their responses as specific to the question as possible,” he said, “while allowing the people in attendance to hear more of each candidate’s platform. The fact that this event was happening at a school and that the questions came from students definitely influenced their attitudes – in most cases for the better – as they were more respectful of each other than they have appeared in the past.”

Cam noted that all of the candidates felt strongly about the topic of finance. He commented, “The golden question of sorts is always, how do you plan to pay for all of the changes you hope to make? This caused very different responses from each of the candidates that added some friction. Our questions mostly generated similar responses or slight variations; however, this one provoked the true feeling of a debate.”

Cam saIMG_7606652959093ys he found the forum to be helpful: “I think the fact that we can have a forum in which platforms or opinions on a specific topic are explained by each of the candidates running for office speaks to the democratic process and our country’s success as a republic,” he said. “I also think that many people in our nation don’t take it upon themselves to become informed thoroughly on the person or party they vote for and in this the benefits of democracy can be lost in dilution of media and hype. I think that education is an issue that the city of Providence needs to address and needs to address with force. Containing some of the lowest-ranking schools in the state, the city needs to continue the conversation we began at the forum.”

His classmate Josabet Z. ’15 (photo above) thought that the candidates gave more of a response on the night’s earlier questions. “We gave them a chance to really get personal about their education,” Josy said, “and talk about their experiences and how what they went through will correlate with what they plan to do in Providence. They had ideas that they wanted to share and you could really tell that they wanted to make a change and the questions that kind of made them think about their own experiences really gave a more sincere answer. Usually, I have very little interest in what candidates have to say because they usually don’t keep the promises they make. Watching them answer these questions and share their vision for Providence really allowed me to think how much pressure these candidates are under. Although I don’t agree with everything they have to say, I better understand the struggle of these politicians and that deep down they want to get Providence back on track.”

All three candidates shared about their own school experiences. Mr. Elorza graduated from Providence’s Classical High School; Mr. Cianci is an alumnus of Moses Brown; and Mr. Harrop is a graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick.

DSC_0259Moses Brown School was founded in 1784 and enrolls 775 boys and girls in grades nursery through 12. Hope High School was founded in 1898 and serves 1,449 students in grades 9-­12.

MB alumna and Providence Journalist reporter Alisha Pina Thounsavath ’96 moderated the event.


Six Moses Brown students join the Global Enterprise Challenge

Assignment:  Design an innovative exhibit to inform communities, government, and the media about the benefit of family farming.

Ready? Go!

The Global Enterprise Challenge (GEC) is an annual international competition for high school students. The challenge is announced on the competition day. Teams have just 12 hours to create and submit an idea, a prototype, a business plan, a video presentation and an optional Power Point/web presentation. A panel of international judges chooses the winning combination of teamwork skills, innovative approach and outstanding standard of product, prototype, plan and presentation. Five Moses Brown students took part in the GEC on June 14: Ghazi A. ’17, Riley G. ’16, Michael R. ’16, Joshua S. ’16 and Devin W. ’16.


The exhibit could be a trade display and/or a website and could include working models, smart phone apps, social media, print and other material. The three-minute video should clearly showcase and explain your idea, including how much funding you require to develop the exhibit and to cover the cost of maintaining and operating the exhibit for 12 months. Finally, submit a two-page business plan explaining how the exhibit will operate, how many people it will employ and in what capacity. Include a detailed financial plan and marketing strategy and explain how you will raise the funds necessary to cover costs.

photo 5

The MB group’s idea: a website called Farmspring, matching new farmers with owners of available uncultivated land, using location, size of the land, use of the land, term of the lease, and available future purchase options. Let them tell you about it — watch their video!


About the GEC

Governments around the world recognize the necessity of developing an enterprising culture in their young people. The GEC provides young people with the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to assist them in the transition from school to work, including the ability to create and manage personal, community, business and work opportunities. Students can develop innovative, creative, and feasible solutions to global problems, while developing career-focused skills in areas including team work, communication, leadership, enterprise and creativity, innovation and time management, in an engaging and relevant global competition. Participants often discover a new way of learning; gain an insight into business operations, including marketing, operations and the management of a broad range of business resources, including human resources; and hone problem-solving skills using science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and financial capability.

Mindfulness and reading: a natural fit for Maureen Nagle

20130501_MB _085_P1At the heart of Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. Maureen Nagle’s project merges mindfulness with reading in a way that perfectly fits Moses Brown.

In recent years, middle school English teacher Maureen Nagle observed that books were losing the battle for her students. “They’d say, ‘I just don’t have time to read!’” Maureen laments, “but while it made me cringe, I really couldn’t blame them.” Students’ days and nights are over-filled with homework, after-school and weekend enrichment activities, and pressure to stay connected through social media. Seized with the desire to make independent reading more personal and inspirational, Maureen and her colleagues launched the CARS (Conversations Around Reading Sessions) program in 2013. Students meet monthly in mixed-grade groups of seven or eight to talk about their favorite books, with a simple, hands-on activity as catalyst.

20130501_MB _055_P1Yet Maureen felt a stronger connection could be forged between independent reading and Moses Brown’s Quaker principles. In this and many Friends schools, meetings and classes start with some silence. Maureen experimented with beginning each English class with ten minutes of silent independent reading. “Reading prepares the mind for learning,“ Maureen found. “It completes the transition from social setting to learning environment. It’s changed the class experience.” This shared experience of reading builds community and, like mindfulness, offers a refuge from technology-driven routines. “Kids don’t have enough time to read,” she says, “but we can give them ten minutes a day.”

20130501_MB _031_P1This success inspired Maureen’s cohort project proposal: to develop and integrate a mindfulness curriculum into the classroom. Her study and research included an online mindfulness course, collaboration with MB librarian Anne Krive, and developing her own use of mindfulness through weekly meditation practice with other faculty and staff. She introduced mindfulness on September’s team trip, and redesigned a poetry unit to incorporate mindfulness exercises.

20130501_MB _054_P1“More than any form of literature, poetry has the power to activate our senses well beyond what we can only see,” Maureen says. “Students sometimes have the misconception that there is only one type of imagery: visual imagery. To encourage students to explore a variety of imagery in their own poetry, I introduced a ‘mindful eating’ exercise. We sat in a circle, passed around a bowl of clementines and spent an entire class period examining the color, texture, fragrance, taste of the fruit, even the sensation as we swallowed. The kids loved it and surprised me: one student held a segment of the clementine up to the window, commenting about how the light shone through to illuminate the inner fibers of the fruit, while another chimed in that the outer peel smelled like…onions!”

She adds, “An intentional benefit of the mindful eating lesson is a heightened awareness of our own relationship with food. Slowing down the eating process added an element of frustration for many of the kids. Amidst the laughter and occasional moaning (‘Can we just eat it already?’), we discussed how slowing down a process that we typically rush creates a richer, more meaningful experience – which we can apply to reading and writing poetry.”

Building an affinity for lifelong learning is part of the mission at Moses Brown. “We have to understand the reality of kids’ busy lives, the competition for their attention. When it comes to their reading, we’ll be relentlessly supportive.“ Teachers and librarians can help students build the resourcefulness and confidence to choose their own books, and be readers for life. “If they continue to build their love for reading in the middle school years, they can become lifelong readers.”


Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system is a professional development and evaluation program for veteran teachers. Evoking our commitment to lifelong learning, a year of transformational study launches a five-year cycle of professional development. A cohort of teachers drawn from all three divisions 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 are continuously engaged in deepening their expertise, refining their curriculum, bringing the latest research back to the classroom and partnering with colleagues to improve the learning experience. A pilot cohort of six faculty began work in 2011-12, and a second group of sixteen followed in 2012-13. This year’s seventeen have already integrated their cohort projects into their curricula.

Unique ingredients make dynamic campus art

by Kristin Street

Last year I was lucky enough to receive Parents’ Association support for a number of projects designed by students to add a bit of art and color to our campus. The Zip Tie project and Wooden Towers projects have just about reached completion.

The Wooden Towers used recycled scraps from Randy’s middle school shop bowl projects and repurposed the pieces to create these towers. They were painted and assembled by members of last spring and this fall’s Studio Art classes. The maintenance department generously installed them, creating a berm to make grass cutting and upkeep within reason. The five towers grace the far end of the Community Garden, right near the Hope Street entry

Our second project used zip ties…lots and lots of zip ties. The Studio Art class broke into teams and designed several installations, each with a different approach and feel. There are four separate installations or projects.

1st) Blue, white and black “ruff’s” surround the bottom supports of the stone benches between Friends Hall and the rear entrance to Alumni Hall.

2nd) Orange, blue, black and white Zips adorn the railing and three newel posts in the stairway (4th floor landing) of the stair tower by Alumni Hall.

3rd) A hanging sculpture hangs in the front entrance stairwell in the Main Building. It starts and the top of the stairs on the 4th floor and hangs within the stairway.

4th) A series of seven Zip Tie birdhouses were created and will be hung around campus (once the weather improves).

Students had a great time working through the design logistics, figuring out where their pieces would end up and creating the work with such novel materials. Many thanks for all your support for these projects.