AltSchool Hub

A Look Inside AltSchool Fort Mason

Posted by Katie Gibbons

Mar 17, 2016 3:12:56 PM

I recently asked one of our 11-year old students what he likes most about AltSchool. After a long pause, he answered, “When I walked in on my first day of school, I just felt free. I feel that I have the freedom to study what I want and how I want.” This same student is now a 5th grader who is studying 8th and 9th grade math, and has a burgeoning interest in quantum mechanics.

School should be a place where students are their best selves. At AltSchool Fort Mason, our community of teachers work hard to create an agile learning environment that supports the individuality of each student.

I invite you to take a virtual tour of our school and see this environment for yourself. 


Educating the whole child: AltSchool’s “fight song”

Feelings like “I can’t do this,” or “I’m just not good at math,” can impact the way kids view themselves and their work. It even affects their academic and later, work performance. That’s why we focus on helping students develop healthy self-talk and growth mindsets. Students develop social-emotional skills like grit and resilience through every academic activity, whether that’s a challenging math assignment or a project that involves multiple steps. To inspire healthy mindsets, our teachers wrote our own school fight song. But instead of focusing on defeating our sports rivals, it’s a song that fosters inner strength, singing along with failure, and persevering through challenges.  


A personalized periodic table of elements
One of our middle schoolers chose to build a model of uranium. She chose this element because, “I wanted a challenge, and I find the concept of decay in radioactive elements fascinating.”

This year our middle school class studied the periodic table with a personalized twist. To learn about the anatomy of an atom, each student chose an element that interested them most. They then researched it, identifying who discovered it and when, as well as the scientific implications of that discovery. After writing a report, they built a 3-D model of their own element, which now hang from the ceiling. The process was interdisciplinary— involving research, synthesis, writing, and 3-D modeling.

Wolves in our town? A political and environmental debate
Our Upper Elementary students created a fictional town called Howlerville to learn about wolf populations, local government, and ecosystems. After weeks of research, the class held a heated city council meeting where students played the parts of different stakeholders, from hunters associations to environmentalists to the Department of Tourism. The simulation was a culmination of a month-long project on the study of wolves in Yellowstone, where students interviewed experts from the National Park Service and researched wildlife ecosystems in the U.S.

On the day of the council meeting, the students took their roles seriously and they listened to everyone’s arguments (in front on an audience that included their parents). Together, they came up with a management plan that took each perspective into consideration. Through the process, students developed empathy, learned about different perspectives, and realized sometimes there aren’t right and wrong answers — just solutions and compromises.


Our own community garden
Our Lower Elementary students are studying food — where it is grown and how it arrives to us. We explored this topic through multiple activities, from going on a field trip to Safeway to see their storage systems, to building prototypes of food containers. The class now has their own community garden, where students are removing weed and crabgrass, reframing the plot, adding organic soil, and planting their own garden. This feeds into our hands-on study of biology, plant life, and edible gardening.


Outdoor exploration and physical education
With the Golden Gate Bridge as our backdrop, we have amazing outdoor spaces to explore in Fort Mason. Our students get outside every day to to explore the neighborhood, move their bodies, and develop team sport skills. We use the beautiful Marina Triangle, Fort Mason Green, and Moscone Field as our playground.

Community meeting every Friday
As educators, we believe the students of all grades at Fort Mason can and should learn from each other. We foster inter-class connections and collaborations. Older students mentor younger ones through reading groups or even teaching opportunities, which empower them to demonstrate what they know.

To further cultivate our community, every Friday we come together as a school for a site meeting, where we discuss school events and updates. Students take ownership over their community and bring their ideas, passions, and creativity to form the environment around them.

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Topics: Fort Mason, Virtual Tours

The Value in Making Makers: Why AltSchool Teaches Tinkering

Posted by Sarah Rothenberg

Apr 8, 2015 10:15:00 AM

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at user-driven design? How about building, say, an airplane propellor, connecting “squishy” circuits, or playing video games with bananas? (Yes indeed, bananas.)

photo_4-3AltSchool recently hosted our inaugural Family Maker Day. The day gave parents and students the chance to tinker, experiment, build, paint, sculpt, and more. Maker education encourages students to explore through building and creating, and it is core to AltSchool’s project-based learning approach.

And based on the success of our recent Maker Day, I thought to reflect on just why I integrate maker education in my lower elementary classroom.

1. There’s no failure when you’re making things: experimentation teaches “grit”

We encourage children to be OK with making mistakes. We can often gain the deepest insights and learnings through our mistakes. Most parents and children are surprised when I offer a pencil without an eraser to my 5 year olds. I do this because I celebrate mistakes as not just a learning experience, but as a vehicle for self-improvement— to make us stronger.

Through designing, testing, building, failing, and iterating, children can gain a healthy mindset about mistakes and reflect on how these mistakes actually facilitate continual improvement.

2. Maker projects allow students to find and express their own passions

When students are given the chance to engage in a project of their choice, we, as educators, can see if students gravitate towards, say, clay, circuitry, or building blocks. We can then use this creative energy to develop their natural interests through inspiring learning experiences. When students are passionate about what they are doing, their imaginations blossom and the learning becomes exciting.

Our goal is to equip students early with experiences to build an early foundation for continued self-growth and exploration.


3. Making and tinkering inspires real-life problem-finding skills

Maker projects inspires both problem-finding and problem-solving skills. Using design-thinking principles, children are challenged to think about different types of users, identify problems, design solutions, and test their ideas in a tactile, engaging (and fun) way! These real-life connections hook the children into a project that is meaningful and relatable.

4. Partner-based maker projects can inspire collaboration beyond the classroom

photo2Maker events like our Family Maker Day can provide great opportunities for community building and collaboration. In our Maker Event, our maker education guru Maria created partner-centered activities that had to be done by both child and adult. For example, many of the maker stations were slightly too difficult for children— either physically or scientifically advanced. The dynamic of such projects required parents to take a guiding role, thereby stretching student learning curves and bringing parents and children closer together. This allowed the parents to get their hands dirty alongside their child.

Maker projects also bring together the school community of educators. Each teacher has a unique skillset and individual interests. Maker events and projects provide opportunities for us to creatively encourage hands-on projects for students in line with our areas of expertise, interests, or lesson plans. Katie Gibbons, the head of the Fort Mason location that hosted the fair, has a beautiful way of fostering this type of unique creativity among teachers. Her encouragement of maker education continually provides ways to engage, inspire, motivate, and bring together the educators at our school.

5. You have great final products to show off!

Last, after a day of tinkering and building, every family has a great project to take home and share with those around them— it’s a natural community builder.


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Topics: AltSchool Innovation, Classroom Stories, Fort Mason