Wednesday, June 8, 2016

English Language Arts

Like our math program, English Language Arts (ELA) instruction at BCS goes well beyond reading a story, answering multiple-choice questions, or writing a few summary sentences. Instead, the ELA program is carefully designed to encourage students to develop as critical thinkers and strong readers and writers, while meeting the needs of all of the school’s diverse learners with a variety of proven teaching practices.

In kindergarten, a lesson may begin with a quick review of short and long vowel sounds followed by small group “reading centers,” where students work with teachers on their reading skills and reading comprehension. The teacher stops every few pages to ask, “What have we learned so far in the story?” or “Which describing words were just used?” Recently, a kindergarten ELA lesson included a comparison of writing styles and a discussion of how a writer can use words to convey feelings, tell a story, or even teach a new subject. Science was then integrated into the lesson when students were asked to “teach” by writing true facts about a science topic they just studied.

In second grade, the teacher may incorporate the Common Core State Standard, “compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story by authors or from different cultures,” by reading to the students the classic version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Chinese rendition, Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas. While listening to the two stories, students take notes on the similarities and differences. Using their notes, the students create a Venn diagram (an illustration of the relationships between and among sets or groups of objects that share something in common) and work with a partner to develop a storyline for their own version of the Goldilocks story.

In fourth grade, students study a new historical fiction novel every three weeks in small group book clubs. Time is reserved for students to independently read their assigned books, but they must take notes on the characters, settings, and themes in preparation for their book club discussions. The book clubs are designed to help students think more deeply about the text and to make real-life connections about what they are reading.

Part of the fourth grade Common Core State Standards is to learn about multiple perspectives, and BCS combines fourth grade California history curriculum with language arts to meet this standard in an integrated and comprehensive way. As students study the Transcontinental Railroad or the Mission Period in California, they are tasked with role-playing various characters to help them understand the multitude of perspectives of people who lived in these time periods. They are also taught the correct procedures for conducting online research, including differentiating between authoritative and non-authoritative sources as well as identifying primary sources. Through this research, they begin to understand how historical events impacted people differently, and they learn that the winners are most often those who write history. This is why, as readers, they have to be mindful and think about the different sides of every story. These lessons are not about memorizing and regurgitating historical information but rather about how to understand history and literature in context from multiple perspectives and how to write an essay that thoughtfully and accurately conveys these multiple perspectives.

In fifth grade, students continue to analyze literature by creating empathy maps where they interpret how a character’s speech or action provides insight into how the character is thinking or feeling. Through these maps, they demonstrate how the characters evolve throughout a story, and they learn to employ language using phrases like “it was a metaphor for…” Students also develop their ability to concisely summarize a story by using sentences that begin with “In the beginning….,” “In the middle….,” and “In the end….” They also learn to end their literary summaries with a concluding sentence that reflects on the story and its theme.

Fifth grade students also learn how to create arguments.  An example of one of their prompts is “Should chocolate milk be served in school?” To help students develop their arguments, the teacher distributes several nutrition articles about chocolate milk. Students then create flash drafts of their argument and work with the teacher to develop plans to find more evidence for their opinion or to find an additional reason to support their claim. The teacher discusses the importance of textual evidence and tasks the students with using articles to find textual evidence to support their claims. Students discover the importance of quoting sources from their research and paraphrasing if a quote is too long.

The English Language Arts program at BCS is designed to support the school’s mission of educating the whole child. Through ELA instruction, we hope to develop students who are critical and analytic thinkers, who can examine the meaning of a text beyond the surface of its words, who can see and empathize with different points of view, who can support their opinions and arguments with evidence, and most importantly, who will develop a lifelong love of learning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Math Instruction at BCS

With the shift to Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM), the benchmark for math mastery is no longer about simply producing a “correct” answer. Gone are the days where students are asked to fill in endless worksheets to show excellence in mathematics. Timed multiplication tests are no longer the barometer for high achievement. So one might wonder: What is this “new” math that our children are tasked to learn?

The CCSSM is not “new” by any means but rather, developed to raise the level of rigor in previous math standards to ensure that the math learning at one level builds and supports the levels above it. Still, it is not enough to have standards by which to measure our growth and understanding. As parents and educators work together to support student learning, our own beliefs about mathematics and math instruction must shift as well. Math is no longer about simply using a formula; it is about understanding how to derive a formula and then determining its usefulness. Math is no longer about the teacher talking and the student listening; it is about being an active participant while collaborating and communicating ideas. Math is no longer about predictable worksheets; it is about authentic experiences with real-time constraints. Math is no longer self-contained; it is about integration. Math is no longer about skimming the surface; it is about stretching and deepening our knowledge. So one might wonder: How do we get there?

Much like an open-ended problem, there is not just one “right” path. At BCS, math instruction is carefully designed to look and be different because we believe in meeting the needs of all our diverse learners with a variety of proven teaching practices. In first grade, a lesson begins with a short introduction to the big math idea for the day. From there, students rotate to “centers” such as “math with someone” for a joint activity, “math by myself” for independent practice, “math with the teacher” for differentiated work and “math with technology” for integrated skills practice. This style of instruction engages children in ways that allow for student choice while developing independence and autonomy all while having ample time to practice 21st century skills such as teamwork and responsibility.

In a fourth grade lesson it opens with a question: “What are the defining attributes of a triangle?” The class is silent as everyone engages in private think time. Moments later, as the teacher facilitates, discussions erupt from all corners of the classroom and a dozen ideas fill the air. Quickly, the lesson transitions to a whole group discussion led by students’ ideas. Hands shoot up immediately as children volunteer to share what they know, as well as some misconceptions moderated by the teacher. A short video follows and again, children are engaged in a discussion  and encouraged to talk about the mathematics using “I notice…” and “I wonder…” statements. A team task follows and high engagement and energy returns. The lesson, driven by student voices, builds upon students’ prior knowledge while subtly introducing new ones.

In a fifth grade class, the teacher poses a situation: “I need to paint 4 walls of a room. Each wall requires one-third of a gallon of paint. Every wall needs to be painted evenly but I am unsure how much paint to buy and I don’t like to overbuy. Find solutions to my problem. Be prepared to present your case with a written proposal supported with visual models as evidence. BEGIN!” Children quickly break up into teams of their choosing and begin sharing ideas. Across the room you can hear students saying, “I’m not quite sure how that would work but it’s worth trying.” and “What if we…?” and “Wait, how come…?” Work of every caliber is strewn across tables and in every child’s hand is a math tool of their choice: a ruler, colored pencils, unit blocks, whiteboards, etc. A flurry of activity takes over the room as children are challenged to push their understanding of fractions beyond the standard algorithm by defending their work through the use of visuals, models and alternative solutions.

At BCS, teachers understand the importance of integration with other subject areas through the use of Project-Based Learning (PBL) units. This style of learning and teaching is not for the faint of heart but if you are looking for excitement, engagement and challenge in math - this is it! Through PBL, students become adept at applying math in all situations at all times. In second grade, students are tasked to to design a new state based on their math and social studies units. Teams work together to use geometric nets to erect city buildings and businesses. They use map skills learned in social studies to create the infrastructure for roads and highways by thinking about parallel, intersecting, and perpendicular lines. All the while, students have to ensure that their work is meeting the needs of the driving question.

The math program at BCS is tethered to our mission of developing the whole child and along with CCSSM, we are raising the bar for children of all abilities to feel successful not just in math, but well beyond college and career readiness. Our approach may not look like what math looked like 20 years ago but that is OK since our commitment is about preparing children for successful futures, not the past. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Leveraging Silicon Valley Innovation in the Classroom

BCS recently partnered with Cisco to create a unique, experiential learning opportunity for our 6th - 8th grade students. The first-ever "Innovate Together" Hackathon provided our middle school students with the opportunity to work with some of the valley's leading programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs, and will serve as a model for Cisco's future work with other schools.

VP and General Manager, Jeanne Beliveau Dunn, describes the collaboration in her blog: Invest in Experiential Learning to Create a Digital Ready Workforce

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cultivating Creativity Through Choice

At Bullis Charter School, creativity and curiosity are considered vital 21st Century skills. To help students unlock and pursue their individual dreams and passions, we offer a rich array of co- and extra- curricular classes. These ‘choice’ activities allow students to explore their own talents and interests and help to develop the whole child. Co-curriculars are held once per week during the regular school day. Each child participates in two co-curricular activities per semester and every BCS teacher is required to develop and lead two of these activities. This year, students were offered an incredible array of co-curricular courses, including picture book writing, advanced Lego robotics, ceramics, public speaking in Mandarin, and web design. Extra-curriculars are also taught by BCS’s homeroom and specialist teachers and are available to every student, but they are optional, after school activities. Extra-curriculars include everything from sports, color guard, and dance lessons to math games, chess club, and fine art classes.

A brand new co-curricular offered to BCS first and second grade students this year is called “Engineering Design with Wood Blocks.” First grade teacher Mrs. Ly created this activity and begins the class each week by telling a story about a harmonious town in a far away land called Peace Town. Everyone in this town lives together in harmony and everyone helps each other out.  However, to integrate engineering design into this activity, the story always ends with a problem that the students need to solve for the people of Peace Town. This type of problem solving develops the students’ design thinking skills. It also helps them to build empathy since they need to emphasize with the people of Peace Town and to understand the problem before they can begin to devise solutions. For example, when challenged to create ways to let visitors into the town, the students created a musical buzzer that when rung, makes beautiful music. As the children explained, “the people of Peace Town are peaceful people and want to hear beautiful and peaceful sounds.”

In Mrs. Ly’s classroom there is a dedicated “Construction Zone” where students use wooden blocks to build their solution prototypes. Although they can choose to work collaboratively or alone, once one or two students begin to construct something other kids often join in, sharing their ideas and expertise. Some of the students ask if there are more blocks they can use or other materials they can add to their creations, but just like engineers in the real world, they are instructed to create their design using the supplies on hand. The students must talk through their ideas, collaborate with their partners or teams, and include lots of detail in their planning. Using this active learning model, these young students have built some amazing structures. Their creations remain unaffected inside the construction zone throughout the week and every Friday the students clean up the area and start all over again on a new structure. The students also write in
their journals about what they have built and why, and they can refer to pictures Ms. Ly has taken during their building session to help remind them of what they built. This encourages them to include lots details in their writing and reflections.

The students have developed a real passion for their design and building co-curricular and it is obvious that they are having a great time working with friends, collaborating, and problem solving. After the first session, students asked Mrs. Ly if they could stay after school and keep building. One student even asked if it would be possible to stay and build if his mom came in to supervise. Clearly, these young engineers are just getting started!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

BCS Mandarin Program

BCS’s World Language program, available to all students K-8, was designed to support the school’s mission to graduate students who are confident, global citizens.  Mandarin and Spanish instruction are offered to students several times per week and much of the core content, traditionally taught in English, is integrated and reinforced in these language classes. 

BCS educators researched the benefits of many world languages before deciding to offer Mandarin instruction at the elementary level. Almost 900 million people worldwide speak Mandarin, making it a prominent language in both eastern and western cultures.  Research shows that children benefit from learning a tonal language like Mandarin at an early age, as it helps develop musical ability and pitch.  In addition, learning a non-alphabetic language activates different parts of the brain as young learners process the characters and develop visual-spatial analysis.

At BCS, all Mandarin teachers are native speakers and bring with them a deep knowledge of the language and culture.  By utilizing technology such as podcasts and on-line collaboration tools, the Mandarin team is able to provide differentiated instruction for all students, whether they are beginners or native speakers and whether they enter the program at kindergarten or middle school.

Public speaking is an important feature of the BCS Mandarin program. Students are required to present to their class at the end of every learning unit, reinforcing their learning and providing numerous opportunities to practice speaking Mandarin. The students’ regular homeroom teachers say that these presentations really help the students improve their public speaking skills, and build their self-esteem and confidence. Please enjoy some of these Mandarin presentations below!

Kindergarten students share the names of shapes:

Second grade students role-play how to buy and sell fruits.

Fourth grade students produce a Chinese shadow show, which supports their study of zoo habitats.

Fifth graders role-play ordering food in a Chinese restaurant. The students developed their own scripts and printed them in Chinese characters.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kindergarten Students Learn about Community Helpers

BCS kindergarten students recently learned about community helpers as part of their social studies curriculum.

Kinder classes learned how police officers keep citizens safe by making sure everyone follows the law. The students explored the different tools police officers use in their work, drew pictures of the officers with these special tools, and wrote short pieces about police work.  In addition, students became familiar with important signs such as: “BIKE XING” and “POISON”.

The students were most excited to make police badges and hats and to attend “Kindergarten Police Academy,” where they had special police work to do - fingerprinting! As they took their own fingerprints, they practiced the names of each finger and learned that each fingerprint is unique. They also learned a fun trick to help them
remember which hand is their left and which is their right.

On a field trip to the Los Altos Fire Station, students met local firefighters, learned how they help the community, toured their living quarters, and, best of all, sat in a fire truck!  The kindergartners loved watching their teacher, Ms. Lunsford, try on 90 lbs. of firefighter gear and try to swing an ax while wearing this heavy uniform. Upon returning from the trip the students wrote letters to the firefighters, sharing their favorite part of the visit and thanking them for allowing the class to visit.

Dr. Manche, ophthalmologist and kinder dad, came to class to talk to the students about being a doctor. Dr. Manche shared a model of an eye and let students try on special 3-D glasses and look at pictures. He talked about why he wears special gear to perform surgery, and provided hair nets, masks, and goggles for the entire class.  Much to their delight, Dr. Manche also presented every student with a bouncy eyeball! The students loved having Dr. Manche as a special visitor.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Dramatic Benefits of the BCS Drama Program

As a S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) school, BCS offers music, art, and drama instruction as part of the core curriculum. During weekly drama class, students learn to perform scenes, monologues, and songs from well-known plays and musicals, engage in improvisation, and learn about the technical side of theater including stage direction, scene and costume design, and light and sound engineering. Throughout the year, large-scale drama productions provide students the opportunity to put these skills to use.  This school year includes productions of Haphazardly Ever After (Grades 1-4), The Aliens are Coming (Grades 4-5), Guys and Dolls (Grades 6-8), The Lion King Jr. (Grade K-4), Into the Woods (Grade 5), and A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream (7th Grade).

BCS is fortunate to have on staff two amazing, full-time drama specialists who engage students in this wonderfully creative aspect of the school’s art program. Jocelyn Pickett works with BCS K-4 students and Jeff Clark works with BCS 5-8 grade students. I had the opportunity to talk with both specialists during afterschool rehearsals for The Lion King Jr. and Into the Woods and here is what they had to say about the importance of incorporating a drama program into the core curriculum of any school.

Why is it important to expose all students to drama?

Mr. Clark: It is important to expose students to drama, even those kids who have no desire to perform on stage, because it builds a myriad of skills they may need for future endeavors. Drama provides the students with experience presenting in front of large groups, it teaches them the art of voice projection, and it develops their ability to think quickly on their feet when in a situation in which they need to improvise. Participating in drama also opens the students up socially, requiring them to work with other kids who they may not have chosen to spend time with in a social situation. As part of their assignment, they must create a performance project with this partner—listening to and being heard by the partner. This helps the students develop the ability to listen to the ideas of others and it also provides them a safe place to try out their own creative ideas.

Ms. Pickett: Teaching drama is important because it teaches something that is not often incorporated into a standard school day. Math and science are logical. Life isn’t like that though, and neither is drama. In performance, there is no right or wrong answer. Drama is an opportunity for open creativity and it provides a chance to build creative confidence. It is Ok to make mistakes in drama and in fact, mistakes are wonderful because they may lead to the creation of something beautiful. Mistakes also allow the performer to rebound and improvise. This is an opportunity for pure creation and innovation. The only mistake one can make in drama is to not try or participate.

Another amazing aspect of drama is it teaches one not to be selfish. You quickly learn that the person next to you on the stage is important. This teaches the students to pay attention to the other actors.

What are some of the additional skills students learn in drama class and what are the added benefits of incorporating a drama program into a school curriculum?

Ms. Pickett: As a drama specialist I get to see the actual child; they don’t put on fa├žade in drama class. In drama, students can show how they are really feeling that day and use that emotion as part of their performance. This is true social, emotional learning (SEL). Drama also teaches the students how to deal with disappointment. Not everyone can land the role of Snow White and that is Ok, because Tree #2 is just as important as Snow White in the production. A performance is not about the individual on stage but rather about how to convey a message to an audience. To do this, you need everyone to work together as a group. It is not about one person being a star but rather about creating a piece together as an ensemble. Drama is the ultimate team sport and there are lots of group problem solving skills involved in pulling off a successful production.

How do you choose what the students will act out in drama class?

Mr. Clarke: Currently, the 5th graders are working in class on scenes from the musical 1776. They 1776 was chosen because it aligns with the 5th grader’s core curriculum in history, which focuses on Colonial American and the Revolutionary War. When choosing an afterschool production, it is often all about how to manage the logistics. For example, I need to consider how many students want to participate and then choose a play or musical that has enough parts for all who want to join. After meeting this benchmark, I decide what kind of production would be good to expose the students to. A few years ago we performed Oklahoma, which is an iconic musical because when it was first produced in the 1940s and 1950s, it changed the way all future musicals were created. This musical has real historical relevance and as part of preparing for the production, the students discussed the history of the musical and learned about the time period in which it is set. For every production the students produce, it is important for them to really understand its background and to immerse themselves in its history.

Upcoming BCS Performances:
Performances of Into the Woods will be held on April 28th and 29th at 7:00 pm and on April 30th at 2:00 pm. Performances of Lion King Jr. with the north campus cast will take place on May 5th, 6th and 7th at 7:00 pm, with an additional 2:00 pm production on May 7th. Performances with the south campus cast will take place on May 12th, 13th, and 14th at 7:00 pm with an additional 2:00 pm production on May 14th. Performances of A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream will take place on June 6th and 7th at 7:00 pm.