Case Campus

Latest update June 14, 2019 Started on November 15, 2018

How are habitats, animals (including us) and plants connected? We will spend the school year exploring our campus, it's vernal pools, brooks, streams, fields, and playgrounds. Can we compare changes and patterns in the weather with changes and patterns we observe on campus?

November 15, 2018
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In The Field

Take a look at this video from the vernal pool - it is quite different than what we experienced in the early spring. Think about the following questions:

  1. If you were a frog (like the one in the first 7 seconds), describe if this would or would not be a good habitat?

  2. Describe the lily pads - how do they stay in place in this water environment?

  3. What do you see in the video that might be good food for the inhabitants of this water habitat?


Here is footage from the brook.

Some things to think about:

  1. Are there plants in the brook? If not, why do you think they aren't found in this water habitat?

  2. How does the bottom compare to other water habitats?

  3. What types of animals do you think might use this water source?


On Friday, June 14th, we decided to test out the Marian Case in the brook and back in the vernal pool on Case Campus. On our way to the brook, we passed three different types of snakes, sunning themselves on the sidewalk and the rocks next to the Woodland School parking lot.

Our first stop was at the brook, on Bridge Number 2. One side is quite obstructed by downed branches, so we decided to try out the other side. The water was a chilly 61ºF, which was a lot different from the Concord River. Anyone have any clues why that may be? There were a lot of rocks and downed branches to avoid on this side as well. We did get some footage, that will be on another post of what we saw in this water body. One big surprise was that the Marian Case was pretty clear from weeds and leaves.

We continued walking down to the vernal pool. When we got there, we had many interested observers - frogs there to witness how well we would do with this dive (as our earlier dives this spring were not too successful due to many weeds being sucked into the propellers). There were now a lot of lily pads that covered the vernal pool and we wanted to see what they looked like from under the water. The water temperature here was 66 ºF.

It wasn't exactly smooth sailing to get the Marian Case to operate in the vernal pool, but we did make some headway with getting out to the lily pads. You can see some of those in another post on this site. We managed to scare all the frogs into hiding, but when you look at the water, you will see that it is very nutrient rich. And an even bigger surprise was that there were no weeds in the propellers.

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While out on the Concord River on Monday June 10, 2019, we also noticed that we had the ability to see the water temperatures. The temperatures ranged from around 73º F to around 77ºF. Can you guess where we found the warmest water temperatures?

We also pulled up some interesting vegetation that we brought back to school and put under our digital microscope.

In the future, we will be doing more temperature comparisons as well as perhaps collecting some plant samples for comparisons.

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Today, the Marian Case spent some time at the Concord River at the Old North Bridge in Concord. The Concord River forms when the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers join at Egg Rock in Concord. This river flows north to join the Merrimack River in Lowell. The river is part of the SuAsCo Watershed, and this part is also designated a wild and scenic river.

There is a lot of historic significance to this site. On April 19, 1775, the start of the Revolutionary War was at this site (or some may argue it happened in Lexington). There was a battle on the bridge (this is not the original bridge). Nowadays, on Patriots Day, Minutemen from the area march to gather on the bridge and to march in the parade.

We had several people ask us what we were doing with the Marian Case and they were really excited by being able to offer students a different way to learn about bodies of water.

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Wow! Not only does the Marian Case help us see below the surface, but she also brings us specimens to observe from above the surface! What is moving around in the water our drone brought up from the Concord River?

Compare your observations from underneath the bridge to footage from the river's edge.

Another beautiful Monday with the Marian Case. Today we explored the Concord River by the Old North Bridge. How does this water habitat compare to Walden Pond or our campus vernal pool? What do you see? Notice what happens around the 4:41 minute mark. What impact do propellers have on water habitats?

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Today, we brought the Marian Case to Walden Pond. The pond is really clear, fairly free of weeds, and deep, so we were interested in how the drone would react to this type of environment. It was a huge success! We removed any of the propeller protector material and she worked as well as she did in the high school pool.


Here is another video from beneath Walden Pond. Same body of water, what looks different? Why?

Today we explored Walden Pond. What do you notice from the Trident's footage? How does it compare to what we see beneath the surface of the vernal pool?

On April 5th, Dr. McCanne took the air drone back out to try and get some footage of the vernal pool before the leaves fully bloom. Instead of starting at Woodland, he came down to the vernal pool to see if he could get an open spot to get it up in the air safely, which he did.

Also at the vernal pool that day were three classes of kindergarteners and our biologist, who were investigating what was living in the pool. One group of kindergarteners brainstormed a way for us to make sure that we correctly identified the vernal pool and decided to use a red pocket chart to easily tag the pool. A fifth grade class from Field School was also there because they are going to take on the task of getting the vernal pool certified by the state.

The birds eye view of the vernal pool is fascinating and I can't wait to see what some of our students will do with this great resource. Unfortunately, the pictures won't upload right now, so enjoy the video.

Today was the day that Mrs. Benson and I envisioned when we put together a National Geographic Open Explorer Expedition - a chance to use an underwater drone in the vernal pool. The drone's name is the Marian Case, and after working with some Grade 5 classes, I felt fairly confident that the propeller problem was somewhat solved and that we would be able to explore the vernal pool.

But when we got down to the pool, it had somewhat frozen up and we heard no frogs. We first surveyed some other areas to see if there was less debris, but ultimately ended up back near our pole. We threw it in and.....nothing. We dragged it out and threw it back in. Again, it struggled moving. We couldn't figure out why that was - the propellers were staying fairly clean, but still it had no thrust. We finally got it so it would go forward a bit, then we would go backwards and then forwards again. We were slowly going forward and getting some cool underwater footage (but no frogs or salamanders!)

And then, we got lucky, as who showed up but Emile, our biologist in residence, there to set traps. Emile had her waders on, so she was game to take the Marian Case further out. It finally moved rather quickly under the ice, but then got caught up again in not really wanting to move. Emile was there to set traps and see if there were any egg masses. So, she went to the right side of the vernal pool and excitedly called out that she found lots of egg masses. She came back and got the Marian Case and brought it back to film the egg masses. Mrs. Benson excitedly called out about how beautiful they were. So, watch this video of our trials and tribulations!

We made it to the vernal pool with the Marian Case! Kindergarten reported to Dr. Erickson on Friday that the pool was alive with sound. Warm weather over the weekend melted much of the ice evidenced in footage from Dr. McCanne's air drone last week. Today we used the underwater drone for a look beneath surface.

In today's exploration with the Marian Case, it was messy but it led to a new discovery which will make our vernal pool exploration hopefully a lot more successful!

Three G5 classes ended up taking on the challenge to creating a "propellor protector". Today, with two of those classes, we headed down to the retention brook behind Field School. Quickly, we discovered that the high water from last week had evaporated so we needed to head down further down the retention brook.

Mr. Shilalie's class was first up and they presented four designs. All of the designs had certain attributes that worked well, and they were sent back with the challenge to combine all of the "best attributes" to come up with a final class prototype as we still weren't able to really get the Marian Case to go forward.

Mrs. Quezada's class also had four designs to try out. Again, we had some success with keeping the propellers clean, but we were still having issues with driving the Marian Case forward. There was lots of good discussion about what may be going on when one student discovered that while we were doing a good job protecting the back propellers, there was a propeller in the middle of the Marian Case that we had not accounted for and it was full of muck.

So, back to the drawing board for our Grade 5 engineers. We are feeling pretty confident that by next week we will have a great solution. And this solution is just in time as the salamanders and wood frogs are on their way to the vernal pool. Sometimes messy learning leads to new discoveries!

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Fifth Graders to the Rescue: After our problems with the Marian Case's propellers in fresh bodies of water, we reached out to some of our best engineers: Three 5th grade classes at Field School to help us solve the problem! Watch the presentation to see how this engineering design problem was introduced!

Another exciting connection - Fabian Costeau, grandson of Jacques Costeau, came to talk to Field School 5th graders. He has the same underwater drone and has the same issues with things getting caught in the propeller. So, it's not just our amateur drone driving skills at all!

The Marian Case in Freshwater Excursions: we tried out the Marian Case in both the pond behind the high school and in the brook at the middle school. We did this in February. It was a lot more difficult than driving it in the middle school pool. Check it the video to look at the issues we encountered.

Is this our vernal pool? What evidence is there to support your claim?


This post is out of order, but we had difficulty posting to this expedition.

After trying out the Marian Case at the middle school pool in early February of this year, Mrs. Benson and I decided to bring the Marian Case outdoors to the high school pond and to a brook near the middle school. This was an entirely different (and difficult) experience for both us and the Marian Case as you can see in the video below and necessitated us thinking differently about how we could be successful in freshwater.

So, who is Marian Case? Why is our school campus called Case Campus? It all started with James Case, who had a summer estate in Weston, called Rocklawn (due to a very large glacial erratic on the front lawn that our Grade 4 students study). This area later on was called the Case Estates, since James owned 121 acres of land (including where our three elementary schools are located today). One very interesting fact about the Case Estate was that the farm pond, that was fed by springs and never froze solid, is today the site of the town swimming pool, where many families spend hot summer days. Case House, is currently home to the Weston Public School administration team, but currently, it is being rehabbed.

The Case Family had four girls, one of them being, Marian Roby Case. Marian never married, and after her father's death, when she was 45 years old, decided to combine farming and education, and created the Hillcrest Farm. (Marian also bought a lot of property along Wellesley Street, including the barn and school house where she located the farm. During the summers, boys from Waltham and Weston, attended almost a "farm camp" where they selected a topic to study during the summer, among other things. They would write up their findings and Marian would have them published into what is called the "Green Books". If you venture over to the Weston Public Library, you will find these Green Books there, and they are an invaluable resource to learn how our land has changed from then to now.

We decided to call our underwater drone the "Marian Case" because Marian encouraged students to explore the natural world around the Case Estates. The Marian Case drone will be used to explore the waterways of Case Campus. Marian Case was an environmentalist and urged people in Weston to appreciate its natural resources. A quote from her in 1916 is still so important 103 years later:

"But am I asking too much of you to help to make the world a place in which gardens can be planted and woodland walks enjoyed. We can keep the world beautiful if we all earnestly desire it to be so and will look for the way." (Notebook of Marian Roby Case, 1916, Series 1A, Box 1, Folder 5, Library of the Arnold Arboretum.)

Information and images from Farm Town to Suburb: The History and Architecture of Weston, Massachusetts, 1830 - 1980 by Pamela W. Fox, 2002

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Meet the Marian Case!

Today was the day we have been waiting for! It was the Marian Case's maiden voyage at the Weston Middle School Pool. We both had fun driving her and figuring out "our" limitations. Much more to follow, such as Who is Marian Case? What did we learn on the maiden voyage? What is the great data we can collect with the Marian Case? How will we get ready for our voyage into the vernal pool? Please stay tuned for more updates to help answer these questions and please feel free to ask your own questions!

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Friday afternoon we attempted a drone flight from Country School to the vernal pool. Wind speeds were 5mph. Cloud coverage was moderate. There was no precipitation. Our hopes were high!

The footage posted here starts where the drone stopped. Why did it stop? Dr. McCanne thinks it may have sensed a wind speed issue. Does wind speed change at different heights?

Watch the video to follow the drone back from where it stopped. Second graders, can you identify different features of our campus? What can you learn from viewing the Woodland and Country School from this perspective?

What is great about Case Campus is that there is going to be a lot to explore with our new Trident drone. In previous posts, you have learned about the vernal pool, the brook on the way to the vernal pool, and the brooks behind Field, Woodland, and Country Schools. Today, while out on a listening walk to the vernal pool with a Woodland Grade One Class, I decided to take them on a different way back. I had forgotten that the brook upstream from the one on the path to the vernal pool may be another great place to explore with the underwater drone. Also, on our walk, we saw many little bridges being put together by Weston Forest and Trails. I have heard that there is a large vernal pool way back in the woods, but it is difficult to navigate. With these new bridges, it may be possible to get back there for yet another place to explore.

I've attached a map from the Weston GIS maps-online to show these brooks.

I think 2019 is going to be the Year of Exploration here on our campus!

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The Trident is here! It is charging! We are waiting for the controller and looking forward to a test run next Wednesday at the Middle School pool. Until then, reading up on the manual. Happy 2019 everyone!


Excellent! You’ll love the controller. It is so easy to use!

The next body of water that we will introduce all our followers to is the brook behind Woodland School. This is an interesting brook in that it is part of the brook that we see on the way to the vernal pool, but it is routed underground and it pops out again behind Woodland. From there, it flows to meet up with the Country School Brook to form what is known as the Four Mile Brook. The water gushes out of the pipe with a lot of power before meandering down towards the cemetery and Country School. It would be great if we could see where the two meet up by using our air drone and it will also be cool to explore this water with our Trident drone.


Look what I found in my Inbox, "Exciting news: You're getting a Trident, Kate!" Yay! We did it! Thank you to all of our followers! This will give us a look at what is happening below the surface of the bodies of water on our campus.

This has been a great week. Plenty of practice time with our air drone on Alphabet Field and even over the brook that runs from the bus drop off at Field School along Alphabet Lane.

Many thanks to Benton, Bryce, and Dr. Lee McCanne for training tips with the air drone. I learned that forward is forward when you are facing the drone's tail and that forward is backward when you are facing the drone's camera. Benton's advice to mark the back was brilliant. My old eyes have a hard time seeing what I am facing from such a distance. I also learned the importance of gyro synching the drone. I believe this is partly why it was so difficult to control the drone on our virgin flight, partly ;). I feel much more confident with the controller now. Pair, synch, start the engine, take off!

Benton was able to explain and test our drone's ability to manage and fly in wind. We will need some weather reports on wind conditions from our GK and G3 meteorologists. Dr. McCanne had an impressive, if not lucky, Captain Sully landing of our drone on a small patch of ice after the drone's battery died over the Field School brook. This incident helped us to recognize the importance of understanding timing and flying. Our G2 students can support us with some time tests. How long does our air drone's battery last? How far into flight time should we direct the drone back to a safe landing area?

Next, we practice with the Trident. Stay tuned for posts from our Middle School pool!


We received the following from GK Room 4 reporting on their observations and questions during a visit to the vernal pool on December 14th:

Hi Susan and Kate-

George wondered where the water of the brook was coming from. Kendall noticed the water moving under the bridge. Zac wondered how/why the water was moving. Chloe noticed trees had fallen into the brook and the vernal pool. Alex noticed there were leaves and sticks stuck in the ice of the vernal pool. Conor wondered why one side of the brook was frozen and one side wasn't.

There was ice covering the whole vernal pool. We think it's thick because the sticks we threw bounced and slid on top of the ice. We could see through the ice. In the brook, there was fast moving water and bubbles.


Great questions. Can we use what we learned from our experiment to explain Connor's wonder, why one side of the brook was frozen and one side wasn't?

There are many bodies of water on Case Campus. One of our central areas to explore is the vernal pool, which is located behind Woodland School, way back in the town conservation land. Previously, followers were introduced to the storm water retention pond/brook behind Field School. Today, followers will be introduced to the Country School Brook, whose source is the Field School retention brook. This body of water flows underneath Alphabet Lane, the main thoroughfare to the three schools and the Recreation Center. Once across the road, the brook widens out as it flows between a youth soccer field and an asphalt path in the back of Country School. It flows underneath a small bridge that allows access to the soccer field and flows towards the brook from Woodland School. These two brooks merge to form the 4-Mile Brook, which will eventually empty out into the Stoney Brook, which empties into the Charles River. Our 5th graders study how healthy our bodies of water on Case Campus are, and the impact of road salt, buses and automobiles is a potential area of study.


After coming very close to losing our air drone to the roof of Country School, Dr. Erickson and I learned that piloting a drone is a difficult thing to do. It clearly requires some understanding of how drones operate along with a lot of practice. So, we sought the advice of an experienced drone user.

Many, many thanks to Faizaan for giving up his study block to take a look at our HS110 FPV Drone with 720P HD Live Video WiFi Camera. I explained to him our goal, to capture image evidence of how and where ice is forming. Faizaan gently let me know that the fixed camera will not be able to look down while recording, only straight ahead. Hmmm, a challenge. Can we affix a camera? Maybe something like a light GoPro? This will require some testing to see if the HS110 can fly with the added weight.

Faizaan identified the best "home" spot for take off and landing, a small open field behind Woodland School, and provided some advice on how to best plan for a flight over the vernal pool. We looked up the drone's playing time of the HS110, 7-9 minutes. With an operation range of 100 - 120 meters and a video recording range of 50 meters, we have some conversions and math to think through.

You can read Faizaan's post from Friday. We are grateful for his time, feedback, and recommendations!

Stay tuned, comment with advice, and help us get an "eagle eye" perspective of our vernal pool.

Hello Everyone,
My Name is Faizaan Qureshi. I am currently 13 years old and in 8th grade at the Weston Middle School. Over the past few years I have been experimenting and playing around with photography specifically in drones. Drones are fun and provide a great learning experience. Most importantly they help us see things from a different perspective. I have given a few tips formed as a list to what is needed for this mission. Here is a list of drone imaging key features for this mission: -A down facing camera -A clear landing and taking off spot -A battery to last 15-20 minutes -Identify a flight day taking account for weather conditions -An experienced pilot informed about the controls -A heavier chassis -A wild life camera mounted on a tree to capture ice patterns from an eagle eye perspective

Room 4 GK scientists are using scientific models representing the brook and the vernal pool. Model number one is a bucket with water. Model number two is a bucket with the same amount of water. Model number two has a bubbler to "move" the water.

We have checked the weather forecast for Tuesday, December 11th. Overnight temperatures are expected to be around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, below freezing.

Our custodian has found a good spot on the loading dock. It is outside and there is an electric outlet to power the bubbler. Both buckets have been placed side by side. Model two has the connected bubbler.

Students will observe and document what is happening with the models over the next couple of days.


At 8:00 AM Wednesday, December 12th, room 4 found ice in both buckets. The ice was stronger in the bucket without the bubbler. Hear their thinking,

At 8:00 AM Thursday, December 13th, room 4 observed and documented, with this digital image, ice in both buckets,

At 10:00 AM Thursday, December 13th, room 4 found ice in both buckets and some evidence of wind. As it often happens with science experiments, a mistake lead to a new discovery. Watch to see what happened and what was discovered during our 10:00 AM observation,

Here is a working link to our 10:00 Thursday, December 13th observation (the link in the above comment has a rogue ".")

Another body of water on Case Campus is right behind Field School. However, this body of water is also pretty unique in that while it is a natural wetland area, it also is an area where stormwater flows, so there is a lot of fluctuation in the water level here as well. However, part of the problem with studying this area, even though it literally is right on the roadway and behind the school, is the large amount of poison ivy that sits on its banks. An underwater drone would allow Grade 5 students to more deeply study this area and determine what types of organisms live in this body of water. It would also provide an overview of how road salt, oil and other contaminants that wash off in stormwater impact the water quality.

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Part of our expedition goal is to see the vernal pool from three levels: eye level, hopefully from below with an underwater drone, and from above with a drone equipped with a wide angle camera. Today was this drone's maiden voyage and it was a bit trickier to control than we thought, as evidenced by our video. However, Pilot Kate brought the flyaway drone down safely in a big thicket of trees and vines and we were able to recover it safely without any harm to the drone. We'll need to practice more before attempting to get some footage of the vernal pool, but as you can see from the picture, it goes pretty high! The students out at recess were really excited to see this tool in action!


We See Mystery #2:

Room 4 has an idea about why the vernal pool is frozen and the brook is not. One difference is that the vernal pool water is not moving while water in the brook is.

Students have set up an experiment to test their reasoning. Is the vernal pool frozen before the brook because the vernal pool's water is still? See the latest post for details of their experiment to prove their thinking.


Dr. Erickson and I have just come back from the vernal pool. We are posting three visual mysteries. Respond as a class using comments. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Here is Visual Mystery #1:

Dr. Erickson and I have just come back from the vernal pool. We are posting three videos to share what we saw. Watch each of the videos and respond to Dr. Erickson's mystery questions as a class using comments. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

We See Mystery #1:

Students in Room 4 wondered about trees surrounding the brook. One idea was that trees were protecting the moving water side from the cold. They remembered from earlier walks, that the trees were surrounding everything, both sides of the brook. One student reminded us that the brook water "runs out". Another student defined "runs" as "moving" water.

Here are the coordinates of our vernal pool location:

42°21'36"N 71°18'16"W

Use Google Earth to enter and control your view of our pool from above. Look closely at the images posted here.

Why would this habitat be good for wood frogs and yellow spotted salamanders?

What season was this view captured by Google Earth cameras?

What data can be taken from this image as evidence to support your claims?

Use comments to post your thoughts.


Insightful commentary! Our first grade tree experts can investigate and report back.

Expedition Background

We are a community of students and faculty using our school environment as a classroom. Each grade has a specific area of focus that they become experts on. For example, our Kindergarten students observe and document changes at our vernal pool to help define what a vernal pool is, how it is impacted by weather, and how seasonal changes impact the animals of this habitat. These human observations capture one point of view.

The Trident Underwater Drone will be used to see what we can't see. What is happening underwater in the vernal pool? The Holy Stone HS110D FPV Drone will be be used to observe the vernal pool from above. Our own eyes will be used to observe the habitat from ground level. These three data points will enable our scientist students three layers of perspective to support our understanding of this unique habitat.

We are excited to begin with this Open Explorer Expedition as a way to digitally document, journal, and share our observations, learning, and expertise!


Good question Kim. There are other water sources we can observe walking between schools. We have a brook that runs behind Country and Woodland School and follows our path to the vernal pool. We have a storm water retention area between Field and Country. It would be interesting to compare the different water body types. Are there similarities and differences among the living organisms in these habitats?

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