Fourth -graders in Laura Eliason's Class at North Brookfield Elementary School have been observing the sky and integrating it into their classroom studies using LOOK UP!, a program of the Weather Channel. Here they stand outside, surrounded by the clouds and the sky holding their sky journals, pictures made in art class, and the Skywatchers' cloud chart used on a daily basis. Photo © Stephanie Jarvis
North Brookfield students have their heads in the clouds -- and like it.
Look Up! adds a new dimension to learning
BY STEPHANIE JARVIS
New Leader Staff
NORTH BROOKFIELD - In an elementary school classroom, youngsters are extending their work to the world around them, simply by looking up. Fourth-graders in Laura Eliason's class are encouraged to look out the windows in the classroom and daydream about what they see in the sky. And through Jack Borden's For Spacious Skies program and the Weather channel’s, LOOK UP! program, students are learning more than simply a lesson in weather by integrating the sky into all aspects of their classroom studies.
Just before 10 o'clock on a recent morning, Eliason pulled open the room's curtains, checked the temperature on the Internet and asked each student to look at the sky and record their observations in their daily sky journals. Referring to a cloud chart, students eagerly began to write, some even drawing pictures. "Aren't those cumulus clouds?" one excitedly exclaimed. And indeed, the clouds were exactly that.
Eliason and her students have discovered through Borden's program, an international effort to increase public awareness of the sky, that looking up does have benefits.
"I think it gives the kids a passion for learning," Eliason said."... The sky is like an orchestra. The orchestra just fills up the whole space. And to me, that's what watching the sky is. You appreciate the sights and the smells, and it fills up inside of you."
Borden, a retired news reporter for Channel 4, was inspired by the sky in the late 1970s while on a hike at Wachusett Meadows. Awakening from a nap, he became acutely aware of the sky - though not majestic or extraordinary by any means - surrounding him. At that moment, Borden fell in love with the sky.
Shortly after, Borden conducted a survey for a Channel 4 feature in Arlington center. Stopping random people on the street and covering their eyes, Borden asked them to describe the sky that day. Out of 25 people, none could accurately depict what was overhead and surrounding them. After that afternoon, he decided to create his For Spacious Skies program.
For Spacious Skies and LOOK UP!, sky awareness programs can now be found in classrooms throughout the country. Former Gov. William E Weld even declared the week of April 20 through April 26, 1997, as Sky Awareness and Appreciation Week. ( This is continued in the year 2000 from April 23-29) "The emphasis is on looking at the sky - as much as possible, as often as possible, so that it becomes, visually, an intimate part of your life," Borden said. "If, as Emerson stated, the sky is the ultimate art gallery above, the person turned on to the sky is, in essence, benignly imprisoned in the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
To Borden, it does not matter if a school - or anyone interested in observing the sky - is situated in the middle of a prairie or in the middle of a city. "The kid who lives in the lousiest neighborhood may have the best view of the sky.... You don't have to be on a hill. You don't have to be on a farm. You don't have to be on a mountain. The sky is available, even if you're downtown," he said.
Eliason's students have found this to be true, each day that they look out the window and up at the sky. With paint chips attached to their journals - one of the many activities found in Borden's activity book - they have learned to write beyond standard sky descriptions of "blue," "cloudy" and "puffy white shapes." Now, clouds have become shrimp-colored or shipyard gray.
"Their descriptive writing is really becoming beautiful. I want to say colorful because that's what it is," Eliason said. "... By using the paint chips, I'm hoping to create richness of expression."
Students, however, are doing more than simply describing the sky on a particular day. In art class, they have drawn pictures of various clouds; in social studies, as part of their work for Women's History Month, they have discussed how Harriet Tubman used the North Star to lead slaves to the Underground Railroad. "Whether it was a cloudy sky or a starry sky might have influenced how much they traveled that night," Eliason said. "... The conditions of the sky aren't just an art show that influences our lives. We've talked about how watching the sky isn't just a weather report.
“...I can spend five minutes on it in social studies ... or I can use it in reading. We can bring a little bit of the weather and the sky into every single subject area."
A good part of the program's success in this one North Brookfield Elementary School classroom is Eliason's own enthusiasm for the sky. With a natural penchant for the outdoors, Eliason learned to ski with her daughter. The activity was meant to be an alternative for her daughter's TV habit and became, for Eliason, a love of all things surrounding her - the sky included.
I love the sky when I'm skiing at the mountains. I don't go down right away. I look around me," Eliason said.
Last summer, Eliason traveled to Italy, and one of her goals was to visit a castle found in the background of a photo on her grandmother's mantle. "The first thing I recognized was the sky because everything else had changed," she said.
And so it was only natural that when Eliason heard about the program - through Health Curriculum Coordinator Lee McNeaney, who had arranged to have Borden speak last year about a longtime smoking habit he later quit - she immediately became interested. "As Laura's enthusiasm builds, she has more to give the kids," Borden said.
Studies of Look Up! have proven that the program itself is beneficial for students.
Researchers at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education found that Boston-area students who participated in the program scored 37 percent higher in music appreciation, 13 percent higher in literary skills and 5 percent higher in art:
"We're awakening these kids to the world around them. It's a different world," Borden said. "... Kids who appreciate the sky - like kids who appreciate any great art - are not the kids who rob the Cumberland Farms store."
Borden has often wondered what becomes of the students who participated in Look Up! A conversation not too long ago with a senior at Turners Falls High School proved that his efforts do have long-lasting effects. Unaware that she was speaking with the very man who created the program, this young woman told Borden she planned on attending Eastern State Connecticut College because more of the sky could be viewed on that campus. Because of a 30-day journal her science teacher made the students keep, the teen-ager had been turned on to the sky. Borden recalled, "This girl, Jessica, said 'The sky has made a big difference in my life. I always know what it looks like."'
Other sky-related activities are planned for Eliason's students in the future. "It's nice because looking at the sky keeps us looking ahead, making us aware of small details and the natural phenomenon of the sky," she said."... It makes them really feed on their learning.
How many teachers ask their kids to look out the window?"
And to that, Borden replied, "It's not, 'Why are you looking out the window?' It's almost, 'How come you're not looking out the window?"'
Published; Spencer New Leader March 15-21, 2000. This article originally appeared in
Spencer New Leader
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