Friday, January 31, 2014

Second Grade Students Showcase Their Leatherback Sea Turtle Projects

Leatherback Sea Turtle conservation is an around-the-clock effort for the Leatherback Trust (LTL) located in Playa Grande, Costa Rica – where our sixth graders travel annually to learn about and participate in the research and conservation of this endangered animal.

Over 3,000 miles away, BCS second graders engaged in their own endeavor to help save the leatherbacks, beginning with a teacher-run field trip to Half Moon Bay in October to learn about the lifecycle of the leatherback sea turtles. 

Among the many activities that day was a relay race where students recreated the lifecycle stages of a leatherback sea turtle by first dragging their bodies across the beach with their front fins, then digging a hole in the sand, maneuvering to get the eggs into the hole from their backpack, and finally covering up the hole (all with fins on their hands the entire time!). 

This highly engaging field trip helped provide students with ample background knowledge before they started their Leather Back Sea Turtle Project Based Learning (PBL) and Design Thinking unit in which students worked in groups of three to explore the driving question “How can we, as citizens of the environment, design a way to protect the leatherback sea turtle?”

In order to best answer that question, students had to do research with books, articles, and videos where students learned how to take notes and highlight important information in a variety of expository texts.   For each stage of the life cycle, second graders worked together to identify specific threats that are currently dangerous for leatherback sea turtles:

Egg Stage: Extreme heat
Egg Stage: Egg poachers
Hatchling Stage: Predators
Juvenile Stage: Fishing nets
Coastal Feeding Stage: Plastic bags/trash in the ocean
Breeding/Migrating Stage: Oil spills
Nesting Stage: Habitat destruction

After identifying the threats, students began working with Mrs. Reed in the MakerSpace to begin the Design Thinking process.  The first step is to build empathy – which second grade teacher Ms. Greenstadt said came very quickly to her students.

“Seeing a lot of pictures and videos of leatherback sea turtles helped the students build empathy quickly, and they loved the idea of having the power to make a positive change in the world,” said Ms. Greenstadt.  “They realized that anyone could come up with a great idea that might help the turtles – even a second grader!”

Building on their empathy and knowledge of leatherbacks, students came up with solutions against specific threats facing the turtles, and were able to use materials like straws, cardboard, plastic, and paper to create a rapid prototype of their solution.

An early idea from a group included having a “hot sauce firing machine” to fire hot sauce into eyes of poachers.  Students rationalized that the hot sauce wouldn’t harm the poachers in a serious way, but it would be enough to prevent them from getting the eggs.
Another group designed a protective bubble for sea turtles to travel in that would protect them from getting caught in nets.  After receiving helpful feedback from the classmates, they changed their prototype from a plastic bubble to a comfortable towel raft, noting that the sea turtles may not like being in a bubble for very long.  The raft also included rubber spikes on the sides to further protect the turtles, but also not harming any other species in the process.  All students went on to design a 3-D sketch-up simulation to virtually test their prototypes. 

Students recently shared their PowerPoint and podcast presentations documenting all of the details of their projects with parents and visitors.  Below are a few examples of the tremendous work done by our second graders who are leading the way in global citizenship and innovation at BCS!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wanny's Words: Visit from the Singapore Ministry of Education

By Wanny Hersey
   Superintendent/Principal at Bullis Charter School

BCS had the pleasure of hosting members from the Singapore Ministry of Education at BCI on Wednesday for a tour and discussion about our innovative programs.  It was a tremendous honor to have this 19-member delegation visit our school because they were interested to see the best practices in American education in action, especially our project-based learning and design-thinking curricula that are integral to our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) program.
Students explain how they are designing and prototyping a 3-D prosthetic hand in the FabLab@BCS

The fifth and eighth grade students at BCI were eager to share what they were working on with members of the group.  Fifth graders were engaged in designing and prototyping a prosthetic hand in the FabLab@BCS, as part of their fully integrated unit about the human body. While in the FabLab@BCS, the educators from Singapore were also able to use the zSpace module to experience how being able take apart and assemble a mechanic hand and arm in 3D will help deepen the students’ understanding of the workings of those parts of the body as well as assist them in their own prosthetic hand designs. In art, the visitors watched our students add muscle groups to their wire and clay replicas of the human body - the same muscle group they were learning how to exercise and tone in Physical Education class.

A member from the Singapore Ministry of Education marvels at the detail of a student's clay sculpture replicating the human muscular system

Eighth graders were nearing the end of their 3-week Architectural Engineering Design Intersession. Members of the delegation observed as students worked in groups to design an environmentally responsive school for the national CEFPI School of the Future Design Competition.  The delegation members were extremely impressed with the students’ 3-D models and were especially interested in listening to students who shared about how they utilized the design-thinking process to create their aspirational school sites.
A student shares her architecture designs with members of the delegation from Singapore

The visiting members from the Ministry of Education asked students questions in each class we visited. Our students articulately responded to the inquiries about what they were learning and also discussed the habits of mind, character traits, and skills they develop as a result of the educational program at Bullis. They made quite an impression on the officials from Singapore who were inspired by our students, our teachers, and the world-class educational program that we provide.

8th graders answer questions during the about BCS and design thinking

I felt so much pride in Bullis and hope that you do too. It’s not always easy being a member of the Bullis community. Parents, staff, and students all work together and all work hard to ensure every child at Bullis has access to an incredible program. In watching our visitors marvel at what our kids can do, I was reminded of how special Bullis really is for redefining what’s possible in public education worldwide.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Integrating the Arts in STEAM @BCS

As BCS celebrates its 10th year in public education, it is once again being seen as a model school for one of its marquee programs known around the country as STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.  While art and design – the “A” in STEAM – were not officially added to the national education initiative designed to boost the country’s ability to compete in the 21st century until February of 2013, BCS has been integrating art into the sciences for years.

Until recently, schools across the country focused only on STEM (without the arts component) after several state and national programs were formed to push the emphasis on science and math in K-12 schools.

There is now a growing advocacy effort for educators to integrate art and design into the sciences.  A recent Wall Street Journal article details the movement in everything from Sesame Street to Stanford.

At BCS, we are incredibly proud to have a robust STEAM program for all of our students.  The addition of the FabLab@BCS and MakerSpace this year has allowed for us to take STEAM to the next level, as reported in this Forbes article.  The Los Altos Town Crier recently featured our science and art integration at BCS and BCI.  You can read the full article here, or continue reading below.

Full STEAM ahead: BCS program integrates art and science disciplines

Courtesy of Bullis Charter School 
Bullis Charter School integrates art with science, math and technology instruction. 

Published on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 00:02
Written by Los Altos Town Crier Staff - Town Crier Report

Bullis Charter School’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) initiative, a staple at the 10-year-old school, integrates art into the sciences.
“Our art specialist has worked closely across grade levels and across disciplines to design integrated units of study since he began working here nine years ago,” said Superintendent/Principal Wanny Hersey.

This year, according to Hersey, the charter school has taken STEAM to a new level with the addition of the FabLab and MakerSpace, which offer all students access to the latest technologies and the opportunity to learn from experts in their fields.
On the school’s second site – the Bullis Center for Innovation – Hersey and her staff have implemented a STEAM program designed to support and enhance the traditional grade-level curriculum.

In the sixth grade, for example, students studied early man in social studies, which laid the groundwork for their first design-thinking challenge of the year – creating a topographical map that shows the ideal setting for survival in prehistoric times. After much collaboration among grade-level teachers, the art specialist and the FabLab director, students applied their historical knowledge using their newly acquired 3-D rendering software skills to create prototypes designed to scale by incorporating math standards in the planning stages.

The exploration of early man continued in art, where students studied and re-created cave paintings and stone art, with a goal to deepen their understanding of the historical period.

After completing the design challenge, students wrote a historical fiction narrative about early man.

Sixth-grade teacher Dan Gross said the results impressed him.

“I was blown away by how well the students mastered the content,” he said. “Paper and pencil learning can only go so deep, but this design challenge allowed all students to be engaged in their own learning, and they got to do that in a way that prepares them for life in the 21st century.”

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wanny's Words - Math and the Common Core State Standards

By Wanny Hersey
Superintendent/Principal at Bullis Charter School

Schools across the country are shifting their instructional practices to align with the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that have been widely adopted by 45 states in the U.S.  In California, districts have begun in earnest to modify their programs to better align with the English Language Arts and Math standards that aim to narrow the scope of skills taught in each grade level while providing a deeper understanding that promotes critical thinking to better prepare students for the 21st century.

As you know, this type of rigorous, in-depth understanding in all subjects has always been an expectation for our students at BCS, and we are thrilled to see a national movement that is also aligned to that end.

The BBC recently hosted a parent education forum with Philip Gonsalves, Director of Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction at West Contra Costa Unified School District, who talks to educators and parents throughout the state about math and the CCSS.

During his presentation, Philip highlighted the main shifts in mathematics instruction and the “8 Standards to Mathematical Practices,” which are the underpinnings for all math instruction in grades K-12:

1.     Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
2.     Reason abstractly and quantitatively
3.     Construct valuable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
4.     Model with mathematics
5.     Use appropriate tools strategically
6.     Attend to precision
7.     Look for and use structure
8.     Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

As you can see, these practices are aimed at taking math instruction and learning from lower-level thinking (multiple choice answers, “drill and kill” instruction) to higher-level thinking (solving problems in multiple ways, requires non-algorithmic thinking).

At BCS, students use Everyday Math (EDM) in grades K-5 and progress to College Preparatory Math (CPM) in grades 6-8. Both programs are closely aligned with the CCSS, emphasizing deeper, conceptual understanding of mathematics and allow students to develop mastery through direct instruction, group problem-solving, and hands-on application.

Math instruction at BCS focuses on conceptual understanding to provide deeper learning opportunities at all grade levels

Our Leadership Team has been working with the Curriculum Leadership Council at the Santa Clara County Office of Education for the last 2 years to help lead the implementation of CCSS.  The team leaders have been providing workshops and teacher-to-teacher training to support our staff as they work to design lessons and assessments that are further aligned with the CCSS.  As you may have noticed, report cards for every grade level have also been re-written to reflect the CCSS this year.

Our team leaders noted early on that much of what we are doing at BCS, especially with our Project Based Learning (PBL) units, already integrate the CCSS.  Because we have teachers who are familiar with creating lessons that promote higher-level thinking, we have been asked to participate in local and statewide consortiums as educators in California work to update their curriculum instruction.  For example, we have teachers participating in the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative (SVMI) to work with researchers and school leaders to provide the most effective math instruction.  And a small group of BCS teachers are collaborating with teachers from Portola Valley School District in a lesson study – an opportunity to design a lesson together, observe the other teachers deliver the lesson, and then provide feedback for their peers.

If you would like to learn more about what BCS has been doing in the area of CCSS, please attend our board meeting on Monday, January 6, 2014.