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Chris Bezsylko

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A Look Inside AltSchool Palo Alto

Posted by Chris Bezsylko

Mar 14, 2016 1:49:26 PM


Enter our classrooms at Palo Alto, and you’ll see evidence of kids “doing” learning. There’s cardboard from maker projects, prototypes from a design challenge, and robots from a recent visit by a robotics expert. You’ll see how students are in a safe environment to become themselves. We are reminded to embrace failure, and students develop their curiosity by noticing, thinking, and wondering about the world around them.

At AltSchool Palo Alto, we value the sanctity of childhood while building a strong sense of self in each child. We believe the best way for a child to learn about themselves is to do and experience a variety of different things. We bring the outside world into our classroom, and we foster the individual spark of curiosity of each student.

Take a virtual tour of our classroom to see for yourself. Below are some highlights as you walk through.

zones of regulation

Zones of regulation: Understanding our emotions and bodies
At AltSchool, students develop self-awareness, learning that they are in charge of their own feelings and understanding how those feelings can positively or negatively impact their experiences as learners. We use “zones of regulation,” a system for us to understand and express our feelings.

If a student says, “I’m in the red zone,” it means they are feeling intense emotions, whether that’s anger or elation. Yellow zone describes heightened emotions but within control. Green zone describes calm and alertness — an optimal state for learning. And blue zone describes someone who is down, sad, or bored. Students and teachers use this language throughout the day to check in and cultivate healthy “green zone” states of being for learning. 


Making - Tinkering - Design
You’ll see lots and lots of cardboard in our classrooms! We’re constantly asking students to use found materials to bring their thoughts and ideas to life. Using design-thinking strategies, students generate ideas, develop models, build prototypes, then share them with others for feedback. This hands-on approach to learning promotes deeper understanding by providing our students with opportunities to apply their learning in real-world contexts.


Interdisciplinary projects that combine empathy and science: Our fresh water unit
Did you know that women in Africa walk an average of 3.7 miles a day to get fresh water? While studying water systems, students were moved by this fact and wanted to measure just exactly how long that walk is. They took to the school driveway and measured their steps. They felt the weight of an unwieldy bucket of water. They felt the fatigue from walking just a small fraction of the 3.7 miles. Then they researched solutions for improving this laborious journey. The project continues to unfold, as they are prototyping different water containers and researching NGOs that are trying to solve this same problem of water shortage in developing countries. 

Homeless for the Super Bowl? Connecting math, social issues, and community
We aim to develop core academics through meaningful, impactful projects. As a class, we regularly read and discuss current events in the Bay Area. When the Super Bowl came to town, we discussed the city’s decision to relocate the homeless population, and the implications it has on the homeless. After reading profiles of those without homes who were affected, students connected these experiences with broader statistics on homelessness and poverty in the U.S. and abroad. Students learned how to “read”  different visual representations of math information and to ask questions that go far beyond the numbers on the page. Through this project, students applied math skills to better understand the scope of both national and global social issues today.


AltInspire: Inviting experts into our classrooms
We regularly hold AltInspire events, where we invite experts to lead a class. The creator of Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty, visited to tell the story of the maker movement and to inspire our kids with a challenge. We’ve invited a rocket scientist, a robotics entrepreneur, a toy maker, and an industrial designer to talk about careers in science and design. During the sessions, students manipulated oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid that has properties of both a solid and a liquid. Students also built model rockets that shot 30 feet into the air, learning how fuel builds up in an enclosed space to propel the rocket. On another day, students learned about the properties of water, viscosity, and how to change the flow of water through different structures, connecting to our broader unit on water.

Personal coaches
We’re all about goal setting and alignment at AltSchool Palo Alto. Students have regular peer and adult coaching sessions. During the sessions with teachers, students review their academic and personal goals for the year and assess their progress. For example, a 3rd grader may be working towards diminishing harmful perfectionism while improving on her writing skills, while a 6th grader may be working on valuing others around them through acts of kindness. We develop the whole child, and put processes in place to ensure students, teachers, and the community are supporting each other’s goals for becoming the best versions of ourselves.


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Topics: Palo Alto, Virtual Tours