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.

Learning@Cisco's
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:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQtbxH33zpk

Second grade students role-play how to buy and sell fruits.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7U7qOSzsXA

Fourth grade students produce a Chinese shadow show, which supports their study of zoo habitats.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7tZaUSymNM&feature=youtu.be

Fifth graders role-play ordering food in a Chinese restaurant. The students developed their own scripts and printed them in Chinese characters.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRMSwju4OTM

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.





Wednesday, April 6, 2016

5th Grade PBL: An American Revolution Museum

BCS 5th graders recently completed a Project Based Learning unit (PBL) where they were tasked with designing a museum experience about the American Revolution. The PBL’s driving question was: “How can we, as artists, create a museum experience that connects our community with the people of the American Revolution?”

When designing the driving question, the fifth grade teachers purposefully included the word “people” to encourage the students to get into the mindset of the people of the American Revolution. By considering those who initiated and fought in the war, the students are better able to develop empathy for their experience and understand the society in which they lived.


Utilizing the design thinking process, the fifth graders interviewed students in other grades to hear different perspectives on what makes a fun and educational museum experience. Based on the feedback they received, each student brainstormed ideas on how to present the American Revolutionary War in a museum setting. Students then chose one idea to focus on and built a prototype of their idea. When finished, they presented their prototype to classmates and received feedback on their design.

Some students struggled with not knowing what their end product would look like. “Students often start the process with ‘is it OK if…,’” says fifth grade teacher Jessica Morgan. “I always respond to this inquiry with, ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’ I want the students to own their design process. I encourage them to refer to the driving question if they feel unsure about their ideas. In the end, there are no wrong choices or presentations. As long as the student answered the driving question, they have succeeded. The way in which each student does this will be different and that is part of what makes the end results so exciting.”

Specialist teachers worked closely with the students on this PBL, helping the students to integrate art, drama, and music into their exhibits. In art, students examined political messages from the time period and developed their own political cartoons to encourage or discourage someone from participating in the Revolution. In drama, students practiced speaking from different perspectives to understand how to portray a person from the Revolution. In music, they composed original pieces of music reflecting the musical style of the time period. 


The students were free to choose how they wanted to present their final displays as long as they were historically accurate and connected the museum audience to someone from the Revolution. Some students made paintings about the Revolution, some wrote memoirs using the perspective of someone from the time period, and others created scratch games or board games to explain specific events in the war. A few students even integrated their drama skills and produced a skit about the people of the Revolution.

The museum opening was a well-attended event bustling with parents, staff, and students. “The variety of displays the students created are impressive. It is amazing to see what fifth grade students are capable of accomplishing,” said fifth grade teacher Mr. Villaluz. “These exhibits are the culmination of everything the students have learned about project-based learning at Bullis and this incredible event is the result of what happens when you give students a say in their learning process.”













Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Using Art to Teach Social Emotional Learning at BCS

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) “is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Studies have found that developing social and emotional skills at an early age fosters teamwork and problem-solving abilities, helping students grow into good students, citizens, and workers. SEL also lowers stress-levels and reduces certain risky behaviors, including bullying and drug use. Bullis Charter School stays current with these findings and believes strongly in helping its students develop the social and emotional skills necessary to thrive at all stages of life. For this reason, BCS integrates SEL into every aspect of its program, from the six pillars to classroom instruction.

BCS art specialist Amy Felder integrates social and emotional learning lessons into her curriculum throughout the year. She engages her students in creative SEL art lessons including Super Self-portraits where students create drawings of themselves as superheroes who possess one imagined superpower that will help them overcome a fear. First graders study the stars and the moon and create their own version of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. As part of the lesson, they read about Van Gogh and discuss his life struggles. The students practice empathy and imagine what it would be like to be Van Gogh. When learning about how certain townspeople mistreated Van Gogh, they discuss the importance of being caring and respectful towards others and how not doing so can leave someone feeling sad and lonely, like Van Gogh.

Recently, Ms. Felder invited artist Barbara Tolloczko, grandmother of a BCS kindergarten student, to talk to the class about how they can express their feelings through art. Mrs. Tolloczko showed the students a slideshow, explained how she gets her ideas for her own artwork and shared the different mediums she uses for her art. The simplest way to express herself, she explained, “is to draw something with a pencil on paper.”  She next showed the students various ways to add color to the drawing by using watercolors, colored pencils, markers, crayons, or pastels. When the slide of an oil painting depicting a dancing lady appeared, she asked the students, “What did I do to make it look like the woman is dancing?” The students examined the figure before them. The posture of dancer’s head was tilted back, her arms were behind her, she was standing on one leg, and her dress was floating in the air; all signifying she wasn’t standing but dancing.

Next, she discussed with the students how she decides what to draw. Of course, the easiest way is to draw or paint what you see. Sometimes though, it is fun to draw or paint what you imagine. After sharing slides of mythical animals, Ms. Tolloczko asked,  “Did you know that it is also possible to paint your idea or opinion about something? For example you can use snakes to represent someone’s hair if you want to depict them as not a nice person.”

Most importantly, art can be used to express your feelings and this can be done in ways other than drawing a happy or sad face. Ms. Tolloczko showed the students a painting of a lady with an octopus on her back and asked them what they thought this could mean? Perhaps the woman is trying to escape something but can’t. Maybe she feels overwhelmed or is carrying a heavy burden. She then showed the students a slide of a woman dancing and swirling in a bright happy dress. “How do you think she feels?” Mrs. Tolloczko asked the students? “Happy,” they responded in unison. “But, did you know you do not always need to put a person in your picture to show if you are feeling happy or sad. The colors you use can also represent your feelings.”

Armed with their new artistic knowledge, Ms. Felder gave the kindergarten students time to create their own artwork representing how they feel. She instructed them not to share the feeling they were drawing. When finished, she invited them to present their drawings and let their classmates guess the feeling depicted. By the end of the lesson, these young students had all discovered a new way to express their feelings through art. Developing this awareness of their emotions is the first step in learning to dealing with feelings in a healthy way, which then allows the students to control their actions. Instead of acting out from fear or anger, students can empathize with what another is feeling or experiencing and respond accordingly with care and kindness.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Leatherback Sea Turtles: An Essay by BCS 2nd Grader Nathan Becker

As part of a project-based learning unit focused on the threats faced by Leatherback Sea Turtles, second graders used the design-thinking process to develop innovative solutions for keeping the turtles safe. Students presented their creative prototypes to peers and parents, and Ms. Tomasetti's student, Nathan Becker, shared this well-written and thoroughly researched essay about what he had learned. 

The Leatherback turtle has survived for more than one hundred million years, but it is now facing extinction. The leatherback’s scientific name is dermochelys coriacea. That means wide-ranging marine turtle with flexible leathery carapace.

The global population for this species was estimated to be 115,000 adult females in 1982. By 1996, this had been revised down to about 30-40,000 Leatherback populations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans have dropped a lot in the past forty years. For example, the nesting colony in Terengganu, Malaysia went from more than 3,000 females in 1968, to 20 in 1993, to 2 later in 1993. There are no signs of recovery. 

Leatherbacks have been recorded as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. The Pacific Ocean may now have as few as 2,300 adult females.

However, not all Leatherback populations have declined. In southern Africa, three decades of strong protection have increased the small annual nesting populations more than four times.

Leatherbacks have survived for a long time but they are dying out and soon they may become extinct. In the Pacific and Indian Ocean, the Leatherbacks populations are getting smaller and smaller. But, not all Leatherback populations are shrinking. In some places people are protecting them.



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

BCS Middle School 8th Grade “Design Challenge” Intersession

Imagine an environmentally sustainable school that includes a roof top garden where crops are harvested for school lunch, a grey water system to flush toilets, and solar panels that harness the sun’s energy for electricity. Picture buildings with expansive windows that invite in an abundance of natural light, moveable walls to create multi-purpose educational spaces, interactive furniture that encourages high energy students to focus, and ramps leading to every classroom to accommodate students and staff with disabilities.

You would expect this utopian learning environment to be the work of an experienced architectural design firm, but these are the innovative features Bullis Charter School eighth graders incorporated into their school designs during their recently completed “Design Challenge” Intersession. For three weeks,
students worked in small groups to develop comprehensive “School of the Future” designs. They were instructed to use green design elements, to incorporate educational philosophy, and to leverage community connections. Students interviewed various
experts in the fields of architecture, interior design, and education, and visited a zero-waste home in Palo Alto. Upon the completion of the Intersession, these same experts sat on a panel to hear the students’ presentations, look over their models, provide constructive feedback, and select the most innovative school design. The winning group will submit their digital designs, laser-cut models, presentations, and essays about their design to a competition called SchoolsNEXT, run by the Association for Learning Environments. Last year, the winning BCS team advanced all the way to the final round of this international competition.


"Eighth graders are at an age when they are forming strong opinions about how society should function," says eighth grade teacher Rebecca Witmer. "Creating the ideal school engages them because they enjoy critically examining school, breaking down institutions as they currently know them, and designing a place where they want to spend their time."


This year, the students were tasked with the special focus to create a campus that would meet the needs of underserved students, who make up one in five children in our larger community. The students mapped out areas of poverty in the Bay Area and studied struggling school districts. Students discovered that not everyone learns in the same way and that some students have different needs, whether physical or mental. Empathy-building is a critical element in the design thinking process, and conducting this research opened the students’ eyes to different learning styles as well as to the experiences of others.

The Design Challenge Intersession supports the development of 21st century skills, including critical thinking, creativity, time management and perseverance. Students are challenged to work collaboratively in groups and produce concrete results in a short time frame. When they
enter the classroom or the Fablab, they know what they need to do and on which aspect of their project they need to focus. The students conquered a variety of real world challenges, such as technical difficulties, and yet every group met the tight deadline. BCS eighth grader, Kat, learned something powerful about her own capabilities, “It really is possible to get this done in three weeks and it was amazing to see it all come together in the end.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Art Education Month--BCS K-5 Art Showcase

March is Arts Education Month and as a STEAM school (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), BCS incorporates the arts into its curriculum, every month of the year. But, to honor this special month, we are excited to showcase the amazing artistic talents of Bullis Charter students.

Kindergarten Imagination

Kindergarten students used their imaginations to create paintings in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. They began their art lesson by reading aloud Harriet Ziefert’s Lunchtime for a Purple Snake and reviewing how to mix secondary colors. Before they began painting, Ms. Felder reminded her students that imagination is the best tool they have to create artwork and this gave them the freedom to paint whatever they wanted.



Third Grade Extreme Weather

After discussing artist Winslow Homer and his weather-focused artwork, BCS third graders worked with groups to create artwork depicting extreme weather conditions, the focus of their current PBL unit.



First Grade Biomimicry PBL and Art

Collaborating across subject matters, first grade students incorporated their artistic talents into their biomimicry PBL.  One student created a scientific drawing by observing an animal’s jawbone in real life and another student created a still life drawing of the biomimicry PBL prototype he created in the MakerSpace.



Advanced Studio Art Projects

In BCS Advanced Studio Art, students created and decorated face masks that are so professional, they should have their own display in an art museum!


3rd Grade Self-Portraits

Third graders worked on their art FLGs by creating self-portraits and writing reflections.



Kindergarten Self-Portraits




Using mirrors to examine their reflections, kindergarten students created self-portraits. The students were taught to use accurate proportions and the correct placement of facial features. They also read Katie Kissinger’s All the Colors We Are, which explains scientifically why people have different skin colors, and they were encouraged to color their self-portraits accurately with crayons.  The self-portraits and a paragraph about themselves will be included in the "All About the Artist" page of the students’ year-long Kindergarten Art Books.