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.”