10 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Endangered Species to Physics. Traditional Crafts to Technology.

Summer is the season for fishing! With all of its many rivers and lakes, Western MA has an abundance of fishing spots that help people connect to the landscape and the rhythms of the season. Support and integrate your interests by downloading our Seasons issue of Learning Ahead for July/August for our summer learning itinerary, take a look at our Literature Guide for Dr. Seuss’ “McElligot’s Pool,” and learn about the history of Gyotaku, the ancient Japanese art of printing fish.

Basket Making to Catapults. Alchemy to Sports. Nature Hikes to Observation Days. These are just a few of the community-based learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week:

Playing music has immense benefits for your brain, in addition to being a calming and enjoyable activity. You can find out about the benefits of playing music and ways to build a practice habit in our post, How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain!


One of the summer’s best gifts is sunshine, and the long hours of daylight are perfect for sun-based science explorations. Experiments calling for the creation of sundials, solar ovens, water stills, and other scientific tools can lead participants towards learning about UV radiation, the relationship between light and heat, and many other light-based scientific concepts. Read more in our post, 5 Ways to Explore Science with the Summer Sun.

“The Earth intercepts a lot of solar power: 173,000 terawatts. That’s 10,000 times more power than the planet’s population uses. So is it possible that one day the world could be completely reliant on solar energy? Richard Komp examines how solar panels convert solar energy into electrical energy” in this TED-Ed video lesson:

View the full lesson at How do solar panels work? – Richard Komp.

• Return to Top

Resources: GEOLOGY

Digging deep into local history this summer can reveal opportunities for community-based learning about geology and early Hilltown industries. Western Massachusetts is home to some incredible gems like mineral dig sites, abandoned quarries, and former mines, studies, and explorations of which can lead to valuable learning about the area’s history – both local and natural. Western MA was once filled with numerous mining and quarry operations, and studies of geology and local history overlap with explorations of a former mine and quarry sites, including a self-guided geology tour at Skinner State Park in Holyoke! We’ve also highlighted four geology gems that families can consider visiting in the summer in our post, Community-Based Resources to Support an Interest in Geology & Local History.

Who is considered the “Father of Modern Geology?” James Hutton, of course! Geological concepts we still use today took a previous simple understanding of our world and made it complex. Stemming from his theory on the circulation of blood, his theory of rock formations followed a similar train of thought. Theories like Hutton’s Unconformity and Uniformitarianism were born, paving the way for discoveries by future geologists, including the formation of rock and minerals. In this SciShow video, “Great Minds: James Hutton, Founder of Geology,” Hank Green reveals Hutton’s history and geological contributions… learning that rocks are more than just rocks… they’re the key to Earth’s history!

• Return to Top


How do buildings, towns, and cities come to ruins? While abandonment is one way, coastal areas might experience another path towards ruins… sinking! Learning about sunken cities gives a lens into understanding how our ancestors lived and the power of nature (think earthquakes, tsunamis, and changes in sea levels). While we have numerous ruins in our region, sunken cities are ruins we might not be able to experience here in Western MA directly; however, this TED-Ed video explains how they happen and the value they have to scientists.

Check out the full lesson at TED-Ed: Real life sunken cities – Peter Campbell.

Western MA isn’t under threat of sinking into the ocean any time soon; however we have plenty of ruins that serve as reminders of the past. From cellar holes to quarries, the region’s ruins speak volumes about its history. Families can explore old hotels, drowned towns, abandoned quarries, and old mill sites safely to learn about life in the past and to explore how nature can reclaim spaces. Exploring Ruins Reveals Local History and Culture.

Labor Day Weekend, 11am, 2pm & 4pm
Mt. Holyoke’s Summit House marks the grandeur of a 19th-century tourist hotspot. Once home to a tramway (quite novel 150 years ago!), a 200-seat dining room, and 44 guest rooms, the hotel allowed guests easy transportation by offering steamboat rides from the western shore of the Connecticut River – literally ferrying them away from competing hotels like the Eyrie House. The hotel eventually closed after economic hardships and extensive damage from the 1938 hurricane, and the building was restored to its early 20th-century appearance. Learn more about the history of this historical treasure and why visitors from all over the world visited it at a talk hosted at Skinner State Park. Arrive curious. Ask questions to give you a better understanding of how a tourist hotspot come fall to ruins, and what went into restoring it to its current state. Appropriate for ages twelve and up. Skinner State Park. 413-586-0350. 20 Skinner State Park Road. Hadley, MA. (Parking <$)

• Return to Top

Resources: SPORTS

Western MA is known for a great many things, but sports aren’t generally one of them. Nevertheless, the region is filled with opportunities to learn about (and participate in!) sports of all kinds. Western MA can claim itself as the birthplace of at least two sports played worldwide, is home to a handful of semi-professional and college teams, and offers opportunities for youth to explore athletics of all kinds. Local families can even find ways to study sports and sports history through the arts! From spectator opportunities and museum visits to full-on participation, sports-related learning opportunities exist locally all year round. Read more in our post, Exploring Athletics and Sports History Through CommunityBased Resources.

• Return to Top


It’s been more than 70 years since the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During that time, the United States has produced more than 70,000 nuclear warheads, although it only possesses around 4,000 nuclear weapons currently. Hiroshima Day is observed on Aug 6. Here President Harry Truman announces the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945:

Sunday, August 5, 8am-6:30pm
The Nipponzan Myohoji branch of Japanese Buddhism is best known around the world for constructing “Peace Pagodas,” first built in post-war Japan to commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After Nichidatsu Fujii, the founder of Nipponzan Myohoji met with Mahatma Gandhi in 1937; he began building pagodas around the world as a call for peace and nuclear disarmament. Commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and gather as a community to stand against nuclear weapons and global war, with a full day of vigils, prayer ceremonies, live music, and special guest speakers. New England Peace Pagoda. 100 Cave Hill Road, Leverett, MA (FREE)

• Return to Top


Sunday, August 5, 10am-5pm
Basket making is an ancient art, which has been used for practical, aesthetic, and ceremonial purposes. Over time, baskets have been made from such diverse materials as plant materials, horsehair, wire, and baleen. Some of the most sophisticated traditional woven baskets can even hold water! Perhaps the first, and still highly effective, type of basket was made from tree bark. The Visioning Bear Circle Intertribal Coalition will be hosting and subsidizing a special basket making workshop, focusing on tree bark baskets. Materials and lunch included. Registration required. Visioning Bear Circle Intertribal Coalition. Greenfield, MA (SUGGESTED DONATION)

Can’t make the event mentioned above? Want to learn more on how to make your own bark baskets? See if your local library or independent used books store has the books, Plaited Basketry with Birch Bark by Vladimir Yarish or How to Make Birch Bark Baskets: Wilderness Survival Skills Series by John Yostto, support your interests, and check out this video that illustrates the art of making a birch bark berry basket:

• Return to Top


Monday, August 6, 2-4pm
The most massive catapult ever made was built in 1304 by the vicious English King Edward I, also known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots,’ for his brutal repression of the Scottish people, and immortalized in the film Braveheart. The catapult, called ‘Warwolf,’ required 30 wagons to carry parts and when constructed, measured over 400 feet tall! During the siege of Stirling Castle, the sight of this ludicrous weapon was so intimidating that the Scots immediately surrendered, although Edward I refused to accept their surrender and demolished much of the castle anyway. Historians have observed that the Warwolf served absolutely no practical function whatsoever and was purely designed to terrify Edward’s enemies. Well, you probably won’t be building a 400-foot tall catapult, but if you are intrigued by these contraptions and the engineering that makes them possible, come check out Make It Monday at the Berkshire Athenaeum. This Monday’s session will be focusing on catapults and sound spinners. Berkshire Athenaeum. 1 Wendell Ave, Pittsfield, MA (FREE)

Another alternative to a 400-foot tall catapult is to build one at home out of simple materials, including, popsicle sticks and rubber bands! Here’s a how-to video to get you going:

Wondering how a catapult works? Listen here:


• Return to Top


“In fantasy stories, charlatans in fancy robes promise to turn lead into gold. But real alchemists weren’t just mystical misers. They were skilled experimentalists, backed by theories of matter. And they played a huge role in the development of knowledge about one of our fundamental questions: ‘what is stuff?'” – CrashCourse

The word “alchemy” is the root of “chemistry.” There is some dispute over the precise definition of the word. It is generally considered to be derived from the Arabic word meaning “the fusing or casting of metal.” Some Egyptologists, however, argue that the word comes from the Coptic phrase “the Egyptian science.” Either way, while ancient alchemical traditions existed in China and India, through the Daoists and Vedic medicine respectively, Western alchemy will forever be associated with ancient Egypt. What we now know of as alchemy originated in the Hellenistic Egyptian city of Alexandria, which became a center for science and the arts in the ancient world. As a crossroads between Asia, Africa, and Europe, Alexandria was home to many of the most dynamic thinkers of the era and much of their wisdom was recorded in texts kept in the legendary library of Alexandria, which was tragically destroyed by fire during the Roman invasions of Egypt in 48 BCE and again in 270. The central figure of alchemy is the syncretic figure of Hermes Trismegistus, a blend of the Hellenic messenger god Hermes with the Egyptian god of wisdom Thoth. Indeed, alchemy to this day represents the persistence of ancient Egyptian and Hellenic Pre-Socratic wisdom and philosophy. In this sense, alchemy is a philosophy of resolving opposites and transcending the dualistic, binary Western worldview.

Tuesday, August 7, 11am-12pm
Ed the Wizard will be demonstrating a variety of exciting alchemical processes, including changing the properties of water, looking through solid objects, and defying gravity! Hatfield Public Library. 39 Main Street, Hatfield, MA (FREE)

• Return to Top

Resource: BASIN POND

Wednesday, 10am-1pm
Basin Pond in Lee stands as a reminder that human activity and industry cannot restrain the power of the natural world. The pond was dammed twice, once for a high-end real estate development and once for a hydropower plant, and both times it broke free. Fortunately, the area is still populated by dense hardwood forests, elderberries, nettles, and trillium. Enjoy a leisurely walk through Basin Pond, passing a natural stone amphitheater and rippling streams along the way. Bring along a lunch and enjoy a picnic overlooking the pond! Basin Pond. Lee, MA (FREE)

• Return to Top


Thursday, August 9, 9am
An excellent opportunity for older students and lifelong learners to explore the beautiful outdoors and learn about marine wildlife conservancy, with hands-on experience! The Brook Floater is an endangered species of freshwater mussel found in the waters of Western Massachusetts. The Connecticut River Conservancy, in collaboration with MassWildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, will be surveying of the species, and they need your help! Sign up to explore an area with waders, snorkels, and wetsuits to collect essential data about the habitats are necessary to sustain this vital species. This event requires a full day commitment and will involve hiking through underbrush and climbing over slippery rocks. Connecticut River Conservancy. 15 Bank Row, Greenfield, MA (FREE)

• Return to Top

[Photo credit: (cc) judy_and_ed]

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Ashfield, Bernardston, Chester, Chesterfield, Conway, Erving, Heath, Holyoke, Montgomery, Pelham, Rowe, Russell, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and Springfield Cultural Councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: