Thursday, February 25, 2016

1st Grade Biomimicry PBL Unit

BCS first graders are engaged in a new biomimicry PBL unit where they are creating solutions to the driving question: “How can we use what we know about how animals and plants protect themselves to safeguard a human baby or child?”

To help formulate a solution to this question, the students first investigated the different features plants and animals use as protection against hostile elements. They dissected the bulb of an iris flower to examine its function in the plant’s survival and they explored various animal adaptations including camouflage, quills, smells, and more.

A pregnant teacher also spoke to the students about how the body is designed to protect an unborn baby and the first graders had a thought-provoking discussion about what parents can do to keep a baby safe once it is born.

Incorporating what they learned about plants and animals, the first graders then applied their design thinking skills to the driving question, and engaged their critical thinking and problem solving skills to create solutions for this real world scenario. They researched different ways a human baby or child can be injured: falling, choking, being exposed to cold, having damage to a baby’s soft spot, etc. Each student then presented ideas for how to prevent these injuries and keep the child safe.

In the makerspace, the students developed designs to protect a child from one of the identified risks, incorporating two animal adaptations they previously researched. The students sketched out one of their ideas, and made a prototype of their design. They presented their models to their teachers and peers, analyzing which aspects of the prototype worked or didn’t work. Meeting Common Core criteria, they also labeled the function of the different parts of their creations. 
The students have been very active uploading pictures of their completed work to Freshgrade so their parents can follow their progress and learn more about how they are succeeding on personal FLGs such as working well with others, communicating with team members, and/or collaborating on investigations.

PBL units, such as this one, provide BCS students with the skills they need for the 21st century, including creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. PBLs allow students to be engaged actively in their learning, giving them a deeper understanding of the content and helping them to retain this knowledge longer. Most importantly, PBLs teach students initiative and responsibility, helping to build confidence and encouraging students to problem solve and collaborate more effectively.

We are so excited by the progress these first graders have made on this new PBL unit and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Monday, February 8, 2016

7th Graders Compose Musical Motifs for "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"

BCS 7th graders are studying the art of ‘soundtracking’ – creating music to accompany a dramatic performance. First, they created their own dramatic scenes to act out alongside pre-existing soundtracks, then they developed electronic soundtracks for Lego stop action films using GarageBand.

The class is now working on its third project, composing motifs (musical themes) for various characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  These motifs will be used to introduce characters, to serve as a character’s theme, or to acknowledge a transition between scenes. The students are creating these motifs based upon their analyses of the various characters in the play and the music they compose will directly reflect the characters’ personality, attitude, and/or actions. 

During this creative process, students are divided into small groups of varying musical ability in order to learn from each other and bring different ideas and experiences to the activity. Each group is assigned two characters from the play and tasked with creating a motif for these characters. Everyone in the
group is required to play some sort of instrument, and they may use anything that creates a musical sound.

The students are having an amazing time experimenting with sound and with various instruments.  Whether destined to become first chair in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra or the one who sings off-key in the shower, every student has the opportunity to learn about theatrical music and to contribute to the musical melodies of their upcoming performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Monday, June 6 and Tuesday, June 7. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Scientific Discovery: Being Right or Finding the Truth?

BCS's 6th grade math and science teacher, Midori Hosobuchi, shares her students' scientific journey to discern 'finding truth' from 'being right'.

I recently started a new unit on density with my 6th grade science class and began the lesson with the usual hook by presenting a demonstration lab.  I asked the students to predict what would happen when I dropped two items, a candle or a steel washer, in a beaker of water.  Students worked hard and silently for about a minute, and then the questions began at rapid fire. “Is the water room temperature?” “Is the wax soluble in water?” “Will you leave the washers in long enough to form rust?” The students wanted to make sure that their predictions were specific, detailed, and, most importantly, correct.

I stopped the class. How, as a previous practicing scientist could I instill in these students the idea that a hypothesis is a tool, not a judgment or an answer?  In science, we use hypotheses to frame thinking about a problem and create a structure for an experiment, but frequently, as predictions, they fail.  How could I help the students see that there is much to be learned in the face of this type of “failure” and to not be invested personally in a concept or claim that must change as new data is obtained?

In the end, we had a great discussion about being right vs. finding the truth.  In a way, being invested in “correctness” looks backwards at knowledge produced by others. It’s much easier to memorize the “facts,” process and interpret them, and come up with what is perceived as an “answer.” Far more difficult is the mind shift required to look at old knowledge as a ladder to finding a novel truth, which then may subsequently require adjusting our old knowledge. 

Although our experiment with the candle and the beaker of water will not bring earth-shattering or life-saving discoveries, if I can help students feel comfortable with the idea that finding new truths may mean discarding previous ideas in the face of new evidence, then I will have moved them one step further in their development as scientists.

Written by: Midori Hosobuchi