Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Exploring Hydroponics with Design Thinking

Our 7th graders recently completed a three-week Engineering Design Intersession (EDI).  Students interviewed school staff and peers to identify design challenges around campus and then chose which problem they could work in teams to solve. This Intersession took place in the BCS FabLab, so students had access to a variety of technology including 3D printers, laser cutters, design programs (i.e. TinkerCad) as well as power and hand tools.

BCS MakerSpace teacher Mick Coleman wanted to develop a hydroponics system that would allow him to grow plants in a space-efficient manner in his classroom.  Our 7th grade guest bloggers, Andy, Caleb, Naomi, and Noah, describe how they approached this challenge:

Please define the problem you were given and your proposed solution.

(Naomi) Our given prompt for our EDI 'Future Farm' project was that Mr. Coleman needs a hydroponics table, that water can flow through, for the MakerSpace on the BCS South campus. Using the Engineering Design Process, we first interviewed Mr. Coleman to gain his perspective and needs in order for our group to make a solution that would fit to his necessities. Mr. Coleman wanted to have a vertical table that he could hang lights on and one that he won't have to bend down, so our group created a prototype that suited what he wanted. Our solution was to create a taller vertical table with a frame and a top so lights could hang from them by a clip.

Can you describe the Ideating and Prototyping process?

(Caleb) The Ideating and Prototyping process took up a lot of our EDI time. We changed our design multiple times to fit Mr. Coleman’s requirements. This step in our EDI project made us more empathetic to Mr. Coleman’s desires for the hydroponics system. This was also the step where we encountered one of our major difficulties: cooperating. One of my teammates was very uncooperative because he/she disagreed with basically everything the rest of our group wanted. Eventually, this worked out, but the other three members in our group had to do most of the planning by themselves. I think the prototyping process was very useful in getting our ideas out; however, I would have liked more time to make a more detailed rapid prototype.

What did you learn during the testing phase?  How did that impact your final design?

(Noah) During the Testing phase of the project, we tried out our different ideas in the form of a physical model (prototype) as well as a SketchUp model. Afterwards, we would troubleshoot and redesign based on what we found out. Changes we made as a result included:

  1. We had to change the design from being a layered cabinet to being completely PVC
  2. We changed the PVC design to a wooden one in the shape of the PVC to be more aesthetically pleasing
  3. We gutted out all of the wood to make a frame because it would be easier to build and cheaper on the budget
  4. We had to put planks underneath our table to keep it from sagging
  5. We changed our one-sided table idea to a two-sided table idea

All of these changes led to the final design of the 'Hydro Grow'.

What were the challenges you faced in your group and as a group?  How did you resolve them?

(Andy) During Intersession, one of the challenges we faced, especially in the beginning, was working together effectively. We resolved this challenge by figuring out our individual skills and created roles for everybody based on their individual skills.

What do you think was the most valuable thing you learned during the Engineering Design Intersession?

(Andy) I think the most valuable thing I learned in EDI was how to cooperate. One of the many challenges our group had, and certainly one of the biggest, was to work well together. After over five hours together every day during the first week of EDI, it was hard to cooperate.

(Naomi) I feel like the most valuable thing I learned during EDI was that ideating was a very important step in our group's process. When we met a problem, such as how we couldn’t get our project through the door, we would iterate on our design until we solved the issues.

The "HydroGrow" team presents about their design to visitors

The Hydroponics Team project is a wonderful example of how students at BCS are honing their 21st century skills: working through problems, using the design thinking process to collaborate, iterate, prototype, and evaluate in order to develop creative and innovative solutions.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Bullis Charter School Students Engage in Global Climate Change Work

Bullis Charter School 6th – 8th grade students have been collaborating virtually with students in nineteen countries including Slovenia, Philippines, Peru, Kenya, Germany, New Zealand, Indonesia, Morocco, Sweden and Ghana to prepare the largest synthesis of youth research on colonization and climate change.  The culmination of this work resulted in two BCS students traveling to Bonn, Germany, to develop a white paper proposing actionable steps and policy initiatives to combat climate change on a global scale, which was then presented at the general assembly at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP23).  BCS was the only school in attendance representing the continental U.S.

Developing Global Citizens is a core tenet of the Bullis Charter School mission, so BCS Founding Superintendent Wanny Hersey welcomed the opportunity to partner with the Canada-based Centre for Global Education’s #Decarbonize:Decolonize initiative, which engages students around the globe to understand and take action on authentic and meaningful challenges facing the world today.  Hersey launched a #Decarbonize:Decolonize Club at BCS and invited all interested 6th – 8th graders students to join. Thirty three students began meeting over the summer to research many aspects of climate change, including ecological footprints, policy initiatives, changes in weather, deforestation, and the impact of climate change on indigenous people.  According to Hersey, “The integration of the UN Sustainable Goals in BCS’ Project Based Learning units has taught our students to develop empathy, work collaboratively, and solve problems on a global scale.”  The BCS group collaborated with students across the globe in Virtual Town Hall meetings to exchange ideas, debate alternatives, and ultimately create a document that represents their collective voice. BCS also partnered with a school in Peru to explore similarities and differences in each country’s approach to climate change.

Clarissa & Anushka arriving in Bonn for COY13
BCS 8th graders Clarissa Chen and Anushka Srinivasan traveled to Bonn to attend the Conference of Youth (COY13) and represent BCS at COP23. Chen, Srinivasan, and student representatives from 19 other countries worked together to synthesize the #Decarbonize:Decolonize research and draft a youth white paper, which was presented to the COP23 general assembly.  The themes that emerged in the paper were gold mining, hydraulic fracking, and water contamination, but also how young people can address these challenges now.  According to Srinivasan, “We tried to really show how youth could have an impact and our voices were important. We also tried to inspire other children around the world to get involved and make a difference.”  Student artists from all seventeen countries submitted art expressions reflecting their thoughts on climate change for a Global Gallery. The writing team included some of this art in the white paper as a way to express climate change themes without words, making it accessible across many languages. Four pieces of BCS student art were accepted into the Global Gallery. While in Bonn, Chen and Srinivasan also participated in a youth climate change march and met with staff from the Oregon governor’s office to discuss how youth can get involved at a local level.  After seeing their work culminate in an international presentation on climate change, the BCS #Decarbonize/Decolonize club students are energized to continue their work, share their passion and engage others to have their voices heard.
The team amongst artwork representing 17 countries expressions reflecting thoughts on climate change selected for the Global Gallery 
Clarissa, Anushka, and Superintendent Hersey participating in a youth climate change march
Q&A with Anushka & Clarissa

Why did you choose to get involved in the #Decarbonize/Decolonize club?

A: Just sixteen months after my trip to Chennai, India in July 2014, the area was hit by devastating rain and floods that claimed the lives of over five hundred people and permanently affected millions more. As I watched images of the floods on the news and the endless lines of people seeking shelter, I saw places that I had recently visited submerged by the flood waters. Scientists said that climate change was one of the possible causes of the storm, and that floodwaters were compounded by unrestrained construction. Before visiting Chennai, I did not know much about climate change, but after my visit, it became personal. When BCS joined #Decarbonize, I jumped at the opportunity to participate.

C: Before I joined the #Decarbonize:Decolonize initiative, I wasn’t really aware about global warming and its effect on the environment. I decided to join the club out of curiosity to learn more and I thought it would be a cool way to positively impact the world. This project also seemed like a unique opportunity to collaborate and learn from students all over the globe.

What did you learn from your research?

A: From my research, I learned how each part of the world was affected by climate change. My team (including the representatives from Indonesia, Australia, and Canada) did case studies on effects of climate change around the world. We studied the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy in the USA, the Sidoarjo mudflow in Indonesia, gold mining in Costa Rica and Peru, and the Bakken oil fields in Canada. Comparing and contrasting these different activities and events was very interesting and unique. I especially valued hearing from people who were directly affected by each of these situations.

C: Through our research, I learned how the issues within different countries are actually quite similar. Multiple countries face issues regarding water pollution due to mining and/or fracking. This made me realize how important it is for us to decolonize and unite to solve this issue. We are all impacted by the effects of climate change and the solution would benefit us all. If we all come together and make small changes in our daily lives, we can make a big impact. Something as small as eliminating single-use plastic straws, by drinking out of the side of the cup, can make a big change. In the US, over 500 million straws are used per day and each one can take 200 years to decompose if it ever decomposes. It was very interesting to compare our blog posts, through the virtual classroom, with other countries’ responses. An average American can create up to 20 metric tons of carbon waste in a year, while a Kenyan citizen will make less than one ton.

Can you describe your experience in Bonn?

A: My experience in Bonn was enlightening and exciting. Representatives from 19 different countries came to Bonn, and getting to interact with and learn from the other representatives was such a cool opportunity. While there, we wrote a white paper that summarized our work and stories. This white paper was shared at the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties and received international media attention. At the 13th annual Conference of the Youth, I met many people who were also studying the natural disasters brought on by climate change. While I had been moved to get involved because of the Chennai floods, others had been affected by the recent hurricanes in the United States or the droughts in Africa.

C: In preparation, before the trip, we had multiple video conferences with the different countries. Our middle school club of 30+ students met all the other schools within the initiative through one of our conferences. When we met for the first time in Cologne, we already recognized each other. Only a couple days before, we had been miles apart, communicating virtually, and then we were standing right next to each other. On the first day, we began with games and introductions. We also quickly began our work with our slide deck for our presentation at Conference of Youth (COY13). We spent the next few days at COY13, where we presented, attended sessions, and ate warm, vegan snacks and lunches. During the following days, we created the white paper, prepared for presentations, bonded over a theater workshop, and held some live webcasts. On our last day, we presented at a UNESCO school and a couple other friends presented at Conference of the Parties (COP23). Afterwards we celebrated our achievements with an afternoon off. We enjoyed sightseeing, delicious food, and relaxation. Later that evening, we reconvened and received special printed copies of our white paper. We signed each other's copies and shared one last night together. They even surprised me with a birthday celebration, as it was my birthday, which was pretty special. After many goodbyes, we parted our own ways, but continue to stay in touch and treasure our memories together.

What was it like to work with students from so many different countries?

A: Working with students from all over the world was an incredible experience. Everyone had different ideas and perspectives, so we were able to address a diverse and large audience. In addition, the community of students that came to Bonn was so supportive and kind. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with them.

C: Working with the other students was an amazing experience. Within a couple hours, we became second family and really bonded together as a team. We were able to learn from each other and shared about our own experiences in our countries. Learning from so many different perspectives face-to-face was really unique. We had meals together and enjoyed comparing our countries’ common sayings, fast food restaurants, and currencies.

The team of students and teachers pose for a photo
on their way to the COP23 Conference.

What emerged as the themes of the students' collaborative work?

A: When the student representatives came to Bonn, we had very different, unique ideas for themes of our white paper. Over the ten days we were there, we combined these ideas and narrowed down themes to focus on youth. We tried to really show how youth could have an impact and our voices were important. We also tried to inspire other children around the world to get involved and make a difference.

C: Gold mining and hydraulic fracking emerged as themes between countries. We learned that these two issues occur in multiple countries, which made us realize that this is a big problem that we are all facing. Both of these events cause water contamination, which affects the local communities negatively. As our initiative is also about decolonization, we tried to focus on the indigenous communities and the impact global warming has had on them. Several times, indigenous communities are ignored by government leaders. For example, in the United States, the government wanted to install the Dakota Access Pipeline, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribe did not support the installation of the pipeline. The pipeline would destroy their ancient burial grounds and would risk contaminating the region’s clean water. Even though, one of the Sioux elders started a protest camp and people around the world came to camp alongside the native americans, showing their support, government officials still ignored their voice and installed the pipe anyway. Other student representatives shared that they also had struggles with water shortages and the indigenous communities in their countries have also been ignored.

Did you receive any feedback from adults after your presentation?

A: After my presentation at the 13th annual Conference of the Youth, we had some time to speak with audience members. The audience was composed entirely of adults, and we received lots of feedback about our presentation from them. They were all very impressed with our work and interested in learning more. They had only learned of climate change as adults, so they said that they felt very inspired and pushed to work harder because of our work.

C: After our presentations, both adults and other students, were really supportive of our initiative and were really interested in our work. At the German school, the students had a chance to ask the group questions and then we talked with the students individually. After realizing what a huge impact global warming has on the climate, the students were intrigued to learn more. Together we enjoyed conversation, made some new friendships, and exchanged contacts. The adults who were part of the initiative were supportive of not only their own students, but other countries’ as well. They provided feedback on how to improve our presentations and made sure that we didn’t get separated.

Can you describe your meeting with the Oregon Governor's representative? What did you discuss?

A: While in Bonn, I had the lucky opportunity to meet with Governor Kate Brown of Oregon’s representatives, Ruchi and Chris. I discussed what we were doing and how we got involved. Then, Ruchi explained how she had a law degree, and she gave up her career in law to work in climate change issues and conservation efforts. Her story was so inspiring to me and I am so grateful for her willingness to answer all of our questions and share her own story.

C: We had the opportunity to meet with two of Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s representatives, Ruchi Sadhir, Energy and Climate Change Policy Advisor, and Chris Pair, Director of Communications. Together we each shared about the actions we have been taking towards preventing climate change. My biggest takeaway from our meeting was that youth can make a difference by being present. The representatives suggested that youth show that they care by attending events such as council meetings, press conferences, and climate marches. Even if we don’t speak at an event, our presence shows our commitment and passion towards making a change. This really hit me as a step of action that youth are capable of doing. Often times people want to make a change, but they don’t know how. Showing up is a really achievable way to making an impact.

Can you comment on the uniqueness of this opportunity?

C: Traveling to Bonn as an 8th grader to present a white paper was quite a unique opportunity. This opportunity allowed me to collaborate with other students globally, to meet them in person, to represent my country, and to share my findings with others in a global context. It was exciting to know that our work was presented at COP23, the United Nations Conference of the Parties. This was a truly wonderful experience that will continue to have an impact on me and I will never forget it.

Relevant Links

Taking It Global -

COP23 -

Centre for Global Education -

#Decarbonize/Decolonize Global Youth White Paper -

Global Gallery -

Bullis Charter School -

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

English Language Arts

Like our math program, English Language Arts (ELA) instruction at BCS goes well beyond reading a story, answering multiple-choice questions, or writing a few summary sentences. Instead, the ELA program is carefully designed to encourage students to develop as critical thinkers and strong readers and writers, while meeting the needs of all of the school’s diverse learners with a variety of proven teaching practices.

In kindergarten, a lesson may begin with a quick review of short and long vowel sounds followed by small group “reading centers,” where students work with teachers on their reading skills and reading comprehension. The teacher stops every few pages to ask, “What have we learned so far in the story?” or “Which describing words were just used?” Recently, a kindergarten ELA lesson included a comparison of writing styles and a discussion of how a writer can use words to convey feelings, tell a story, or even teach a new subject. Science was then integrated into the lesson when students were asked to “teach” by writing true facts about a science topic they just studied.

In second grade, the teacher may incorporate the Common Core State Standard, “compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story by authors or from different cultures,” by reading to the students the classic version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Chinese rendition, Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas. While listening to the two stories, students take notes on the similarities and differences. Using their notes, the students create a Venn diagram (an illustration of the relationships between and among sets or groups of objects that share something in common) and work with a partner to develop a storyline for their own version of the Goldilocks story.

In fourth grade, students study a new historical fiction novel every three weeks in small group book clubs. Time is reserved for students to independently read their assigned books, but they must take notes on the characters, settings, and themes in preparation for their book club discussions. The book clubs are designed to help students think more deeply about the text and to make real-life connections about what they are reading.

Part of the fourth grade Common Core State Standards is to learn about multiple perspectives, and BCS combines fourth grade California history curriculum with language arts to meet this standard in an integrated and comprehensive way. As students study the Transcontinental Railroad or the Mission Period in California, they are tasked with role-playing various characters to help them understand the multitude of perspectives of people who lived in these time periods. They are also taught the correct procedures for conducting online research, including differentiating between authoritative and non-authoritative sources as well as identifying primary sources. Through this research, they begin to understand how historical events impacted people differently, and they learn that the winners are most often those who write history. This is why, as readers, they have to be mindful and think about the different sides of every story. These lessons are not about memorizing and regurgitating historical information but rather about how to understand history and literature in context from multiple perspectives and how to write an essay that thoughtfully and accurately conveys these multiple perspectives.

In fifth grade, students continue to analyze literature by creating empathy maps where they interpret how a character’s speech or action provides insight into how the character is thinking or feeling. Through these maps, they demonstrate how the characters evolve throughout a story, and they learn to employ language using phrases like “it was a metaphor for…” Students also develop their ability to concisely summarize a story by using sentences that begin with “In the beginning….,” “In the middle….,” and “In the end….” They also learn to end their literary summaries with a concluding sentence that reflects on the story and its theme.

Fifth grade students also learn how to create arguments.  An example of one of their prompts is “Should chocolate milk be served in school?” To help students develop their arguments, the teacher distributes several nutrition articles about chocolate milk. Students then create flash drafts of their argument and work with the teacher to develop plans to find more evidence for their opinion or to find an additional reason to support their claim. The teacher discusses the importance of textual evidence and tasks the students with using articles to find textual evidence to support their claims. Students discover the importance of quoting sources from their research and paraphrasing if a quote is too long.

The English Language Arts program at BCS is designed to support the school’s mission of educating the whole child. Through ELA instruction, we hope to develop students who are critical and analytic thinkers, who can examine the meaning of a text beyond the surface of its words, who can see and empathize with different points of view, who can support their opinions and arguments with evidence, and most importantly, who will develop a lifelong love of learning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Math Instruction at BCS

With the shift to Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM), the benchmark for math mastery is no longer about simply producing a “correct” answer. Gone are the days where students are asked to fill in endless worksheets to show excellence in mathematics. Timed multiplication tests are no longer the barometer for high achievement. So one might wonder: What is this “new” math that our children are tasked to learn?

The CCSSM is not “new” by any means but rather, developed to raise the level of rigor in previous math standards to ensure that the math learning at one level builds and supports the levels above it. Still, it is not enough to have standards by which to measure our growth and understanding. As parents and educators work together to support student learning, our own beliefs about mathematics and math instruction must shift as well. Math is no longer about simply using a formula; it is about understanding how to derive a formula and then determining its usefulness. Math is no longer about the teacher talking and the student listening; it is about being an active participant while collaborating and communicating ideas. Math is no longer about predictable worksheets; it is about authentic experiences with real-time constraints. Math is no longer self-contained; it is about integration. Math is no longer about skimming the surface; it is about stretching and deepening our knowledge. So one might wonder: How do we get there?

Much like an open-ended problem, there is not just one “right” path. At BCS, math instruction is carefully designed to look and be different because we believe in meeting the needs of all our diverse learners with a variety of proven teaching practices. In first grade, a lesson begins with a short introduction to the big math idea for the day. From there, students rotate to “centers” such as “math with someone” for a joint activity, “math by myself” for independent practice, “math with the teacher” for differentiated work and “math with technology” for integrated skills practice. This style of instruction engages children in ways that allow for student choice while developing independence and autonomy all while having ample time to practice 21st century skills such as teamwork and responsibility.

In a fourth grade lesson it opens with a question: “What are the defining attributes of a triangle?” The class is silent as everyone engages in private think time. Moments later, as the teacher facilitates, discussions erupt from all corners of the classroom and a dozen ideas fill the air. Quickly, the lesson transitions to a whole group discussion led by students’ ideas. Hands shoot up immediately as children volunteer to share what they know, as well as some misconceptions moderated by the teacher. A short video follows and again, children are engaged in a discussion  and encouraged to talk about the mathematics using “I notice…” and “I wonder…” statements. A team task follows and high engagement and energy returns. The lesson, driven by student voices, builds upon students’ prior knowledge while subtly introducing new ones.

In a fifth grade class, the teacher poses a situation: “I need to paint 4 walls of a room. Each wall requires one-third of a gallon of paint. Every wall needs to be painted evenly but I am unsure how much paint to buy and I don’t like to overbuy. Find solutions to my problem. Be prepared to present your case with a written proposal supported with visual models as evidence. BEGIN!” Children quickly break up into teams of their choosing and begin sharing ideas. Across the room you can hear students saying, “I’m not quite sure how that would work but it’s worth trying.” and “What if we…?” and “Wait, how come…?” Work of every caliber is strewn across tables and in every child’s hand is a math tool of their choice: a ruler, colored pencils, unit blocks, whiteboards, etc. A flurry of activity takes over the room as children are challenged to push their understanding of fractions beyond the standard algorithm by defending their work through the use of visuals, models and alternative solutions.

At BCS, teachers understand the importance of integration with other subject areas through the use of Project-Based Learning (PBL) units. This style of learning and teaching is not for the faint of heart but if you are looking for excitement, engagement and challenge in math - this is it! Through PBL, students become adept at applying math in all situations at all times. In second grade, students are tasked to to design a new state based on their math and social studies units. Teams work together to use geometric nets to erect city buildings and businesses. They use map skills learned in social studies to create the infrastructure for roads and highways by thinking about parallel, intersecting, and perpendicular lines. All the while, students have to ensure that their work is meeting the needs of the driving question.

The math program at BCS is tethered to our mission of developing the whole child and along with CCSSM, we are raising the bar for children of all abilities to feel successful not just in math, but well beyond college and career readiness. Our approach may not look like what math looked like 20 years ago but that is OK since our commitment is about preparing children for successful futures, not the past. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Leveraging Silicon Valley Innovation in the Classroom

BCS recently partnered with Cisco to create a unique, experiential learning opportunity for our 6th - 8th grade students. The first-ever "Innovate Together" Hackathon provided our middle school students with the opportunity to work with some of the valley's leading programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs, and will serve as a model for Cisco's future work with other schools.

VP and General Manager, Jeanne Beliveau Dunn, describes the collaboration in her blog: Invest in Experiential Learning to Create a Digital Ready Workforce