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.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Bullis Charter Middle School Intersessions

Intersessions are one of the most unique tenets of the BCS middle school program. During these three-week sessions, students move beyond the classroom and engage in active learning in the real world. Students develop real life skills as they work through problems, helping them to become well-rounded students with the 21st century abilities needed to be successful in university and in the modern workplace.

For three weeks each trimester, the daily schedule is suspended while students engage in an extended inquiry process of an assigned focus area. Projects are organized around a driving question, requiring students to investigate, collaborate, design, and construct actual solutions to real-life problems. 21st century skills are more than academic, and hands-on Intersessions provide students the opportunity to practice and refine important ‘life’ skills such as empathy, creativity, rationality, determination, and resourcefulness.

The first seventh grade Intersession combines sewing, cooking, and woodworking. While not typical middle school content, these pursuits integrate math, design, problem solving, and fine motor skills.  “At BCS, we expose all, not just some, of our students to the arts, to making, to taking risks, and to trying things that they might not attempt to learn on their own,” explains Lisa Stone, a BCS seventh grade teacher.

In the second seventh grade Intersession, students tackle Engineering & Design in the school’s

FabLab, where they have access to a variety of technology and tools including 3D printers, laser cutters, design programs, power drills and more. As part of this intersession, students interview staff members and peers to learn more about real problems found in the school. They then choose which issue they want to work on and begin to devise solutions for this problem.  Solving a problem at this level encourages students to use their critical thinking skills and to continuously plan and reevaluate, as they tackle different issues that arise along way. For example, one group of students was tasked with how to transport rolling backpacks across wood chips. As a solution, the students designed and built a “backpack gondola.” These projects are what Intersessions are all about: finding solutions and working through problems, just as one does in real life.

For their third and final Intersession, seventh graders are asked to stage a 100% student-led performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In addition to learning Shakespearean history and dialogue while performing the play, the students serve as the directors, casting crew, and light and sound engineers. They also build upon their previous Intersessions by sewing the costumes and designing and constructing the sets. Teachers are on-hand as advisors only and are part of the audience when the students perform their production on a professional stage at the Bus Barn Theater in Los Altos.

“Intersessions reinforce the students’ full year studies”, explains Ms. Stone. “At BCS, we focus on the interconnectedness of subject matter and integration. Even though students aren't going to their "regular classes" during this time, they can see that there are components of math, writing, and science in constructing a device to solve a problem. Intersessions help students understand the interconnectedness between the subjects.”

In addition to reinforcing regular studies, Intersessions extend the learning of skills and concepts through authentic, real-world applications.  For example, seventh graders learn composition in weekly music classes and are then required to score The Midsummer Night’s Dream production during Intersession.  Eight graders learn coding as part of the core curriculum and then apply those skills when designing educational apps at Intersession.  Students are encouraged to consult with industry experts as they seek to refine and improve their outcomes, and these same experts often provide feedback at the end of a project.

Intersessions are a critical part of the BCS curriculum. They offer the middle school students the opportunity to gain exposure, interact with experts and audiences, and be accountable for their ideas and projects. 

BCS Founding Principal/Superintendent Wanny Hersey explains the thinking behind these authentic learning opportunities, “We believe that in creating connections, relevance and meaning are discovered, and the rate of retention improves dramatically. Our students are empowered to design and lead their own education, thereby developing adult leaders with the ability to thrive in an ever-changing world.”