Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Developing the BCS Educator

There is always great excitement on campus in mid-August around BCS as our students return to school...But did you know that our teachers engage in active learning for the two weeks prior to students arriving, as well?

Bullis Charter School’s (BCS) mission calls for “children, faculty and staff to reach beyond themselves to achieve full potential.” The ten consecutive days of staff development prior to the start of every school year is a unique aspect of the BCS program and exemplifies the staff’s ongoing commitment to the BCS mission.

Jessica Lura, BCS Director of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships, believes that actively engaging faculty and staff as learners increases their professional knowledge and ultimately enhances student learning. Specific goals of this beginning of the year staff development are:
  • to build a learning community, to welcome new staff members, and to have fun
  • to dive into what it means to be a globally competent student and to build our capacity as educators so that we can support our students in becoming globally literate
  • to continue to focus on meeting all students' needs and building our content area skills
Throughout the ten days, teachers are engaged in the dual capacities of both teacher and learner. Sessions are designed and led by returning BCS staff, thereby steeping new staff in the BCS mission and culture and unifying the entire learning and teaching community.

Second grade teacher, Paige Minichiello, explains what differentiates BCS’s staff development program from other traditional teacher professional development (PD) models, "As a new teacher to BCS I wasn't sure what to expect...I always enjoyed the PD at my last school district, but found some discrepancies in the implementation of the wonderful things I learned. What I love about BCS is knowing we'll be putting these fantastic skills and ideas to use, because I've already collaborated with my team about it! It feels great to explore new technology and know my students will get to use it, too. I can't wait to help my students become globally conscientious citizens with the help of the amazing staff and parents at BCS. They are truly putting the learning needs of children first."

For staff development for the 2017-2018 school year, a variety of educational topics were presented, including developing global competency, integrating these and the Next Generation Science Standards into specialist content areas (arts, physical education, world languages, etc.), achieving vertical articulation (alignment across grade levels) for Project Based Learning units, and using data to pick areas of literacy focus so that the needs of all students are being met whether through specific technology programs, new in-class programs, or small group instruction.

In support of the global competency strand, the entire staff enjoyed a special viewing of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Prior to watching the movie, the staff was updated on global warming trends and data and introduced to the innovations and efforts to decrease man's carbon footprint since the film’s prequel, An Inconvenient Truth, was released. Casey Stanton, National Wildlife Federation Director of Education, who developed the educational materials for both films conducted pre- and post-viewing workshops (pictured at right). Teachers were treated to the newest educational resources and excited to begin integrating these into the upcoming year’s lessons. This special staff development day would not have been possible without the generous support of Dipender Saluja, Partner & Managing Director of Capricorn Investment Group, Participant Media, and the National Wildlife Federation.

Another particularly engaging event was the ‘Tech Tools’ learning challenge. BCS’s Art, Math, MakerSpace, and FabLab specialists led the staff through activities they use with students that integrate technology into the curriculum. A few favorites were:

  • Sphero – Painted artwork created using an iPad and an app-enabled ball
  • littleBits – Circuitry kit used to build something that lights up
  • Makey Makey – Invention kit that turns everyday objects into touchpads, used to build electronic pianos
  • Osmo – Game system that enables an iPad to see what's in front of it, allowing students (and teachers) to receive feedback as they use blocks and colored tiles to create patterns, tangrams, etc.
Although this was BCS founding and current middle school teacher Lisa Stone’s 14th year of participation, she still finds opportunities for growth and reflection in BCS’s staff development program. "Innovative approaches to education and the tools employed to implement them are constantly being developed, so each year I learn so much despite being a veteran teacher. Not only do we learn about these innovative approaches, but we also have time to discuss with our colleagues how to implement them, moving together as an entire staff to make the BCS student experience better with each passing year."

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Teacher's View of "Skills For Today"

April 24th - 28th is P21’s "Skills for Today" Week, sponsored by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21).  The celebratory week was designed to showcase how the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning and the 4Cs — Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity — can empower all learners to gain the skills they need for success.

“If we want to set our children up for success in college, career, and life, opportunities to learn 21st century skills are essential,” says David Ross, CEO of P21. “The "Skills for Today" week will not only help shine a national spotlight on the importance of these skills for our students but also highlight the critical elements of a successful education in the 21st century and the resources, research, and best practices that bring these skills to the classroom.”

Bullis Charter School is one of 79 schools and school districts nationwide to be named a P21 Exemplar School. All BCS students are given numerous opportunities to develop the 4Cs and acquire the 21st Century skills they need to thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops.

In honor of P21’s “Skills For Today” week, BCS 5th grade teacher Jessica Morgan shared the following observations of her students exhibiting the 4Cs in the classroom, as well as her belief in the value of 21st Century skills for all students:

I had a moment this week that emphasized how much I love the creativity and drive in our students. I was doing one circle of the classroom toward the end of an assessment period in order to check how many students were still working on the test and to monitor the choices students were making if they finished early. In that one period, I saw:
  • one student silently rehearsing percussion patterns for the “BCS Fight Song” and some other music he had to memorize for band
  • one student studying lines for an upcoming musical performance
  • two students practicing drawing for personal FLGs
  • one student crafting an email to a parent to take responsibility for something that happened that day
  • one student working on a Math exemplar to practice critical thinking and multi-step problem solving before tomorrow’s test
  • one student writing up Spanish notes for practice

All of these students were completing these tasks without any prompting from me. They were thinking carefully about what they needed to do as individuals to keep making progress, and they took steps to make it happen. This is a priceless skill that will inevitably help them in all areas of life!

-- Jessica Morgan (@jessreedmorgan), April 26, 2017