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!