AltSchool Hub

A Parent’s Perspective: Helping my son grow his confidence

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 21, 2015 12:00:06 PM

Parent_Testimonial_Photo

One of our parents, Sharon, shares how her 6-year old son has grown socially and emotionally, thanks to a personalized approach. Here is their story:

What have your overall experiences been like at AltSchool?

AltSchool has changed our lives. Before AltSchool, my son wouldn’t participate in a group, rarely interacted with peers, and felt bad about himself. Now he’s become a child whose loves life, his confidence is growing and he shows great compassion for others. He’s happy every single day and has lots of friends. When I come home from work, he cannot wait to tell me what happened. His face lights up when he talks about school.

Why do you think he’s changed so much?

Without a doubt, it’s due to his teachers and the personalized approach at AltSchool. The first few weeks he struggled while adjusting to the new environment. When the class went to PE, he removed himself from the group and didn’t want to participate. His teachers partnered with me to understand why. They sent me updates over Stream daily with what they tried and what worked until they found a way to help him.

He was picked on at preschool and he is acutely aware if people are judging him. With this knowledge, they worked hard to get him to realize that there’s no judgment and that he is part of the community where everyone is accepted. If he brings something to their attention, they thank him for sharing then show him that they are doing something about it. He is now interacting just as much as the other children. This is just one example of how much they individualize and care for each child. They dug and probed to understand why he didn’t want to participate and then did whatever they could to make him feel safe and valued.

Parent_Testimonial_Photo_2

It sounds like he’s had a lot of social-emotional growth.

Yes! I’ve also seen his empathy develop for other children. Before, he didn’t like playing with younger kids because they can be unpredictable. Now when we go to a playground, if a younger child falls over he will help pick them up and say, “that’s a really good attempt for a 2-year old!” To see him re-assure a younger child is transformational.

I also notice his growth when I try to help him with things. For example, I tried helping him with a project, and when I didn’t do it right he said, “It’s OK Mom, you tried your best!” When I say, “I don’t know”, he’ll remind me that “I don’t know YET”.  

He’s also becoming more comfortable with uncertainty. He has gained the confidence to be okay with not knowing something and not getting things perfect the first time. He’s grasping the concept of “any failure is a learning to redesign or try a different approach.”

You mentioned the Parent Stream app. How do you use it?

I look at Stream every day, and I use that as a conversation starter with my son. I’ll say, “Oh, I saw your teacher post something about jellyfish!” And then he’ll talk about what he learned about jellyfish. He’s proud of his efforts, and they celebrate them in class. They celebrate each child’s progress in what each child is working on. Stream helps me connect with those successes he has in class.

How would you describe AltSchool’s use of technology?

He has a tablet, but the technology is not very prominent overall. He’ll talk about the science experiments he did or how many bugs they collected in the park. He never talks about the technology. Instead he’ll say, “I did this really cool project, and I took a picture of it using my tablet.”

How would you describe the teachers?

I don’t think I have ever met a more dedicated group of teachers. They partnered with me to find out what was going on and found a way to help him. They are 100% solutions-focused and really believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself. They are just incredible!

Apply to AltSchool

 

 

Read More

Topics: School, Dogpatch Classroom, Parents

Watch: How we foster social and emotional growth at AltSchool

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 25, 2015 10:00:00 AM

 

What happens when you value grit the same as long division? When you believe that forming and maintaining relationships is as important as reading comprehension?

Social and emotional learning is a core part of the student experience at AltSchool and is woven into everything we do, both academically and non-academically. We've outlined measurable learning objectives for life skills -- ranging from negotiating conflict to kindness to managing frustration -- so we can track and measure each student's progress.

Watch this 2 minute video to learn even more from our educators.

 

Apply Now

Read More

Topics: School, Classroom Stories

How to pick quality educational apps: A quick guide from our teachers

Posted by Erin Zaich

Nov 10, 2015 1:14:18 PM

Children are growing up in a digital age where “google” is a verb and they expect every screen to be responsive to their touch. As technology drives our daily lives forward, enabling a multitude of new experiences, it seems only natural that learning in schools should reflect the tenor of the world around us.

Technology has the power to facilitate personalization in learning, both in the classroom and at home. But choosing apps and digital resources for children can feel daunting due to the large number available. When approached as an afterthought, technology can lead to the digital equivalent of a worksheet rather than dynamic tools that create valuable learning experiences.

There are a few simple guidelines I like to follow when deciding what apps to use in the classroom, and the same guidelines can apply at home:

1. Does this app allow me to do something otherwise unimaginable without technology?

When assessing digital tools to use with students, I always strive to focus on the learning outcomes of the project as the focal point. Then, I seek out tools that allow me to transform the learning process into something unimaginable had the technology not existed. Technology allows us to do some pretty unbelievable things in the classroom and at home, from simply taking and annotating pictures of our work to recreating models of our learning. I love leveraging Skitch as a tool for observation in the classroom. This app allows students to take pictures and annotate them. We’ve used the app for in-class scavenger hunts, labeling a science experiments, and more. I want students to walk away from a learning period engaged and excited, and this can happen both because of, and in spite of, a tool. 

2. Can my child and I interact together with this app?

Creating and collaborating with your children while taking advantage of technology is incredibly rewarding. Encouraging questions and seeking answers together, rather than passively consuming media, offers insights into your child’s creative and critical thinking skills. Any movie making app (iMovie, Book Creator, My Story, and more) is great for creating digital stories with your child. From creating a reflection about the learnings from the day or developing a full story arc with characters, setting, and more, any child will love using these apps in creative ways.

3. Is the app open-ended? 

When an app can be used across multiple skill sets and content areas, you have a real gem. Kids will learn which apps they love and want to use them in creative ways both in school and at home. By investing time into these open-ended, creative apps, we allow kids to dream up what they can do with them, thereby redefining what was once possible. I love Explain Everything because it can be applied across disciplines. From making videos about mathematical concepts to creating book trailers, the app is focused on creation so that you are able to use it in a variety of settings.

4. If the app is focused on practicing a specific skill, what is the added benefit of using the app versus something else?

There is a time and a place for practicing skills like grammar and multiplication facts. When evaluating apps that focus on mastery of a topic or task (e.g. spelling), look to see if it is reimagining the learning experience in a way only possible with technology (going back to the first guideline). If the app is doing something new and creative with practicing a skill, try it out! Think about the engagement of your child and how he or she will interact with the practice. Motion Math is super engaging. I love the different levels and concepts covered. Many coding apps are wonderful for practicing foundational and conceptual skills. In class we use Scratch on the computer, and the Scratch Jr. app is well crafted and laid out as well.

To summarize, here are some of my favorite digital learning tools,and suggestions for how you can use them at home:

Skitch
Ages: All
Subject: Open-ended
Activity Suggestion: Annotate photos from a vacation with key ideas and details, which helps build communication skills.

iMovie, Explain Everything, Educreations, Green Screen
Ages: All
Subject: Open-ended
Activity Suggestion: Make a video about your day and send it to a relative as a means to connect. This ties the activity with a meaningful intention.

Bee Bot, Daisy the Dinosaur, Kodable, ScratchJr
Ages: All
Subject: Coding
Activity Suggestion: Work together on coding something fun, inventive, or immediately useful at home.

 

Read More

Topics: School, AltSchool Innovation

Infographic: the magic (and numbers) behind our educators

Posted by Dan Barber

Oct 13, 2015 10:20:00 AM

info0

Every day, AltSchool educators create meaningful, inspiring experiences that ignite each child’s love and wonder for the world around them. As an AltSchool parent noted, “it’s clear they love what they do.”

Beyond the inspiring intangibles that characterize our educators, we decided to gather information about our educator team as a whole. After all, we love data at AltSchool! We found that, overall, our educators are experienced, diverse, global, empowered, lifelong learners, who contribute to enriching the AltSchool community of students and families. Deeply passionate about their students and the field of education, our educators are the heart and soul of our educational approach.

If you'd like to meet our educators in person, join us for an AltSchool Open House.

Meet Our Educators

altschool_blog_edu_infographic_1.png

We are flattered to receive thousands of applications for our teaching positions each year. Many of these applicants have both studied and taught at some of the best schools in the world. With a rigorous hiring process, we seek a teacher’s alignment with our approach to technology, personalization, whole-child learning, academic rigor, and hands-on experiential learning. We seek teachers who embrace a growth mindset and an iterative approach to education: who continually seek new ways to engage students as well as reflect on their own practice to improve. Through this hiring process, we can safely say that we’ve hired a truly exceptional group of educators.
 
altschool_blog_edu_infographic_2.png

We seek educators who are both innovators and masters in their professions — teachers who seek to hone their craft while revolutionizing education. The average years of teaching experience reflects this balance: a majority of AltSchool educators have 6+ years of teaching experience, and over third have 10+ years. For us, this is a perfect mix of new perspectives and collective expertise.

Each of our educators also carry specific specialties, including Reggio Emilia, mindfulness, STEM, and design thinking. Our students and families benefit from nearly 500 years of collective experiences and areas of such expertise. The network-effect of these 500 years is profound, as our teachers continually collaborate and share best practices. Each day, teachers in San Francisco benefit from insights and lessons happening across the country in New York, and vice versa.
 
 
altschool_blog_edu_infographic_3.png
 
From Uzbekistan, Italy, Egypt, and Mexico — our educators have collectively taught across 12 countries. Not to mention nearly a quarter are either bilingual, trilingual, or proficient in secondary languages. Global citizenship and cultural appreciation is core to an AltSchool education. Each of our campuses have international teaching experience, which informs the experiences they provoke into each classroom.  
 
 
altschool_blog_edu_infographic_4-1.png

Our educators are scholars of their field and lifelong learners themselves. 72% of our educators possess master’s degrees, which is over 30% higher than the national average at private schools.

We also empower our educators to develop professionally. With an annual stipend of $5,000, educators are encouraged to attend educational programming ranging from Harvard certification programs, to the Reggio Emilia conference in Italy, to a global conference on digital literacy. After each professional development experience, educators then come back and share their learnings and takeaways so each benefits from the network’s collective knowledge. As one San Francisco-based AltSchool educator noted, “my learning curve at AltSchool is so much steeper than in any other environment! Just through the sheer quality of my peers, we each collaborate and share what’s the most cutting edge in the field of education.”
 
altschool_blog_edu_infographic_5.png
 
AltSchool, diversity includes ethnicity, culture, experience, areas of expertise, pedagogical backgrounds, and more. We have assembled an ethnically diverse team to further foster a conscientious, respectful and enriching environment for our students. Additionally, we’ve created a balance of educators who both represent the local communities in which they teach and bring an outside perspective by moving across the country to join the AltSchool team.
 
 
altschool_blog_edu_infographic_6.png
 
Last, we aren’t satisfied with the status quo, and so we actively solicit feedback to improve. We regularly survey our educators and parents to understand and improve their experiences, ranging from school pickup and dropoff, to the quality of their relationships at AltSchool. For teachers, our goal is to ensure they are spending as much time as possible personalizing education for each of their students. For example, educators share any time they are doing repeated tasks that don’t require their unique skills — like coordinating the logistical intricacies of a field trip or moving scores from one spreadsheet to another. We then use this feedback to build better tools to support our students, teachers, and parents so that everyone can focus their time on what matters most: a deeply personalized and quality education.
Above all, we’ve found that our educators are proud and inspired to work at AltSchool. And across all of AltSchool, we agree! We are fortunate to have such talented educators who are inspiring each of our students every day, and who are, as part of AltSchool, defining the future of education at-large.
 
 
Download Infographic

You can download the full infographic above!
Read More

Topics: School, Meet the Team

Back-to-School-Night, Reimagined

Posted by Paul France

Sep 30, 2015 12:50:37 PM

(Originally posted on InspirED.)

Paulblog1

Back-to-School Night has always been one of my favorite nights of the year. Everyone – educators, families, and students alike – are bright-eyed and excited for a new year. Parents buzz in, practically bursting with questions, admiring work on the walls, wanting to see more of what their child’s day actually is like. Ironically enough, on too many Back-to-School nights, parents leave with just the opposite. They don’t learn in the way that we want our children to learn. Instead, they sit, they listen, and they have little opportunity to actually interact with their child’s environment.

Fortunately, my team and I did something to change that last night.

Sure, we had 25 minutes of obligatory logistics. There are many things that parents need to know going into the school year, including communication norms and expectations, curriculum, and the general approach for the year. But this doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed or arduously long. Instead, it needs to be visually engaging, concise, and help parents to leave with a sense of confidence, excitement, and wonder about their child’s upcoming year in the classroom.

paulblog2

Our most exciting experience, though, was the part when the parents were actually able to step into the shoes of their children. Part of the AltSchool experience is the playlist – the set of activities that students are able to access on their own. In lower elementary, specifically, when starting the school year, this looks mostly like student-driven documentation, as students with their little fingers and developing minds, need a lot of guidance on how to simply turn the device on and take pictures. My team and I wanted to help provide this experience to parents first-hand, and so last night, we gave them the job of documenting their child’s work.

paul_blog_3-1

Each family opened up their child’s playlist, found the activity entitled “Explore Our Learning Space,” and proceeded to take pictures of student work and key areas of our classroom. Not only did this help families to construct their own mental model of our classroom, but it allowed them to see exactly what it’s like to be in their child’s shoes, to document their own work, and to learn in within the four walls of our classroom.

Even after the families were long gone from our classroom last night, a quiet energy still hung in the air, slowly dying with the twilight of the evening sky. Parents’ voices, bubbling with excitement as they left, still rang in my ears. And while I’m proud of our curriculum, our strong communication procedures, and exciting technology, I don’t think that’s why the families left so excited.

They left excited because they had context, they understood, and they could empathize with their child’s experience more than they ever possibly could before. With this new context, and with this reimagined Back-to-School Night, we set our classroom, our students, and our families up for an embodied experience – one that breaks down the barriers between home and school, one that increases common understanding of what learning should be, and one that helps them to understand their child and his or her experience, even better.

In my opinion, that’s what Back-to-School Night should feel like. And I’m proud to say… last night did.

Read More

Topics: School, Classroom Stories, Parents

Three Techniques for Teaching Digital Literacy

Posted by Kay de Veer and Paul France

Sep 2, 2015 11:00:00 AM

This article was originally posted on EdSurge.

digital_literacy_222

Twenty-five years ago, the term “literacy” was synonymous with the printed word. Today, that definition has evolved and being literate necessitates more than simply interacting with text. We must be digitally literate, too.

Teachers have an even harder task; we must cultivate this ability to adapt to constantly changing mediascapes while simultaneously preserving students’ writing skills in their purest form. This may sound intimidating, but there are simple things you can do to help prepare students.

1. Teach How to Mindfully “Read” New Media digital_literacy2222

Many teachers have started to supplement traditional curriculum with everything from video to online articles. But simply adding in new content isn’t enough. We must instill a complementary skillset that enables students to closely read things within those mediums. Believe it or not, this can be done with lessons you currently have--with a bit of tweaking.

In the same way we deconstruct themes, plot development and perspective in literature, we can teach how to decode digital media. As you introduce an infographic or video clip into class, ask students to unpack its mode and type of media--what genre and what form is it? Consider the audience--who is the intended reader, viewer, subscriber? Evaluate motive, bias and intention--what was the content creator’s purpose? Examine the context--does when and where it was created offer important clues? Discuss the pros and cons in using images or video to tell a story versus text--what is better expressed in each form and what are the drawbacks?

Often these discussions begin as teacher-facilitated and slowly turn to student-led. For example, our six and seven-year-old students organically began discussing the recent earthquake in Nepal based on a photo of a child in the rubble, following a facilitated conversation around photos. They inferred how the child might be feeling, commented on the landscape depicted and compared the child to themselves. Photos and video can capture real-life emotions in a way that text does not.

If you’re doing a lesson on the American Revolution or World War II for example, students might have stronger reactions to the information presented when they see visual representations of the realities of war. Encourage students to posit their perspectives in a speculative fashion, such as “they might be feeling scared” or “they might be angry at the soldiers.” We must teach these tools to create an environment where students feel safe to voice their opinions on the content presented.

AMP_AltSchool_ExplorFM-2015-01-13-13942. Help Students Become Makers and Tinkerers--of Text

Reading and writing are creative tasks, requiring both the building and breaking down of words--or “tinkering.” As literacy develops, a student’s toolbox grows, and the forums in which students can build grow too. You can help students transition from what frequently is their comfort zone (i.e. 140-character updates and pictures) to more in-depth commentary, such as a written blog.

Create simple tools for your class like flexible, common rubrics, to enable students to self select topics, publish journals, music, or videos weekly, and then iterate on their work over time. These short, on-demand curation tasks not only build writing stamina and ownership of their craft, they also reinforce the iterative nature of writing.

Say you have a student struggling with writing fluency. Brainstorm with her to find a subject she’s passionate about like airplanes or animals. Ask her to begin by just finding and posting pictures on those subjects to her blog and encourage her to then discuss the images with her peers. Meanwhile, your primary role is to enable her to better communicate her interests by adding words and phrases to accompany the photos. What she’s doing is essentially “tinkering” with more and more text.

Within a few weeks, she will be constructing multi–sentence entries, and slowly but surely, you will have helped her to transition from a photo blog to a written blog. The key is to select a topic she is invested in and therefore more likely to maintain.

digitalcit

3. Offer Guidance to Becoming Responsible Digital Citizens

Our generation was thrown into the digital age--and had to fumble along as we went. However, we are now the first generation of teachers with the power and responsibility to shape how future generations will use those same tools; to become good digital citizens.

With younger students, that begins with interactive conversations around the best-practices of using devices. Use the classroom to problematize things like how much time is appropriate to be in front of a screen, whether it’s safe to walk while using a tablet, and what you should do when someone speaks to you while you are using that device.

For older students, who will likely be using digital communication, collaboration or blogging tools, address how to avoid plagiarism, approaches and criteria to find quality online resources, and how to give and receive constructive feedback. You’ll find these conversations are even more impactful when augmented by hands-on learning.

last_digital

You might plan a lesson that requires students to provide feedback to each other on their writing via a resource like Edmodo. Start by asking students to pick and then post a sentence that needs revising. Instruct students to propose various writing strategies for improvement and within minutes you’ll have whole walls of suggestions.

This exercise lets students practice digital citizenship in a controlled setting, so that you can mentor them in the art of constructive criticism. Just imagine the practical implications to this small task, from navigating the Comments section of news sites, interacting with friends on Instagram to someday collaborating with colleagues. Plus, it reinforces the concept that although online reading and writing may seem ephemeral, our words may be viewed by millions and recorded for an eternity.

Read More

Topics: School, AltSchool Innovation

First Day of School in San Francisco

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Sep 1, 2015 11:12:00 AM

firstday2

 

The first day of school has arrived for AltSchool San Francisco! We welcomed close to 200 families -- returning and new -- to our schools at Alamo Square, Dogpatch, Fort Mason, and SOMA.

The Head of School at each site recorded short messages with a preview of the school year. Check them out below!

 

 

 At our South of Market Middle School, Head of School Lorie Delizo, shares how the educator team (and one python) has built an emergent, project-based, and personalized curriculum within the math, science, humanities programs.

 

 

Emily Dahm, Head of School at Alamo Square, shares highlights about the three units that each class will explore this year, as well as the focus on personalizing the curriculum to each student’s needs and interests.

 

 

 

 

Fort Mason’s Head of School, Katie Gibbons, tells us how Fort Mason’s educator team has carved out learning spaces throughout the building that foster student reflection and creativity, including a library, “cafe,” and creativity lab.

 

 

Annette Bauer, Head of School at AltSchool Dogpatch, discusses highlights for the multicultural and multilingual focus at Dogpatch through the German bilingual and Spanish immersion programs on campus.
Read More

Topics: School, Videos

How Parents Can Prepare Themselves for the First Day of School

Posted by Deborah Kelson

Aug 21, 2015 10:00:00 AM

TV ads and Sunday circulars are not so-subtly reminding us that Back to School season is in full swing. There are tons of articles and blog posts on how to prepare your kid for kindergarten. But, what about the grown-ups? What tips and tricks do parents need to get ready for the transition to elementary school?

We spoke with several seasoned moms and dads to get survival pointers. Here are their nuggets of wisdom:
 
forestpic

1. Get ready for life to hit fast-forward. We’ve all heard it before: “the days are long, but the years are short.” Parents tell us life goes into hyperdrive once children start kindergarten. One moment it’s the first day of school, the next it’s winter break, the next they are driving a car. Be sure to remember to hit pause and allow yourself to experience and remember the first year of school.

2. Reset your expectations for the first day of school. Chances are you were in kindergarten at least 20 years ago. Your memory of kindergarten may be very different than what your child will experience. It could be anything from having to say goodbye on the playground instead of in the classroom on the first day, or the emphasis on social emotional learning rather than just memorizing addition tables. Be open, be curious, and expect it to be different.

3. It might be hard, but encourage your kid to do things themselves. Encourage independence. Some parents recommend “letting” a child do things for themselves where others advise to “make” them do it. These things could include from walking to class from the car to carrying their own jacket. Use the first day of school as a catalyst to change behavior. You know your kid best and whether to ease into this or go cold turkey. To make this more manageable, try breaking up big to-do items like “get ready for school” into step-by-step checklists like “brush your teeth” and “put your shoes on.”

4. Think about how you want to be involved. There will be lots of opportunities to volunteer your time. Parents recommend evaluating your options rather than signing up for the first one. Think about how you like to spend your time: Do you want to be in the classroom? Work with the teacher? Do you want to be on a committee, or lead the committee? Talk to other parents and figure out the best way to help out. And remember, the amount of time you volunteer isn’t a reflection of how much you love your kid.

5. Don’t forget to document! Pick a notable spot -- front door at home, sign at school -- and take a first day of school picture. Then, make it an annual tradition. Your whole family can revel in how much your child is growing and changing every year. (“Mom, I can’t believe you let me wear THAT!”)

Siblingitispicmonkey

6. Beware of siblingitis. In Ramona Forever, the brilliant Beverly Cleary had a doctor diagnose Ramona with siblingitis when her baby sister Roberta was born. If your kindergartener has any siblings, don’t forget to shower them with a little TLC too, especially younger brothers or sisters that are still attending preschool.

7. Embrace “failure” as an opportunity to learn. If you haven't read Carol Dweck's book Mindset, then you should. Pronto. She teaches that people can do anything as long as they are willing to try hard and view failure as a learning opportunity. Be wary of labeling your child as smart: rather than inspire your child, it can have the opposite effect and be demotivating. Instead, praise effort to develop resilience and grit. It may feel unnatural to say, “Wow! I can tell how hard you worked on this” rather than “You’re so smart,” but you’ll be creating the mindset children need to succeed.

8. Get ready to learn new things about your own kid. Many parents report transformational growth in their children during kindergarten. After spending 5+ years with this little person, you may know them better than you know yourself. That starts to change in kindergarten. Feedback from teachers may sound like they’re talking about a stranger. “He is the first to start cleaning up? Really?” Get ready to learn new things about your kid as he starts to figure out who he wants to be.

9. Maintain perspective. It won’t be perfect, so think about what’s important to you. Do you want your child to love learning? Do you want them to be happy, confident, independent? Kindergarten is the first step in a long career of being a student. Everything won’t click on day one. But it will click. Just give it time and remember what’s important to your family.

10. And finally, just when you thought you couldn’t love your kid any more, you realize you actually can. A mom shared this sweet story: On the last day of preschool, a few weeks before the first day of kindergarten, her daughter gave her one of those arms around the neck/legs around the waist hugs. The kind where even if you don’t hold on, the kid still doesn’t fall off your body. She eventually let go, jumped onto the ground, and asked, “Did you know I was going to land on my feet?” And the mom did. In more ways than one.

 
 
Read More

Topics: School, kindergarten

What would happen if the school bell never rang?

Posted by Joyce Lin-Conrad

Aug 17, 2015 10:06:00 AM

Cue the acoustic guitar, the tambourine, then finally the eight-year-old lead singer of the band, Jo Jo and the Gang, in a clear soprano: “Oh, bacteria, you’re a prokaryote! You got a cell wall protecting your nucleoid!”

IMG_2986Every week, projects like "Bacteria Cell Song" (written, recorded, and performed live by one of our upper elementary rockstars) remind me of the power inherent in any student-driven learning experience. At AltSchool, teachers are always cultivating the focus and flow that comes when children are engaged in an activity that ignites their passions. In the case of our young singer, the project doesn’t end with the song. She plans to incorporate her interest in fashion and is designing a dress to wear in a forthcoming music video, which will surely bring to life lyrics like “cytoplasm is like Jell-O.” By mixing biology, music, design, poetry, and production, “Bacteria Cell Song” is a wonderful example of integrating skills and content knowledge across the disciplines, engaging students’ real-world motivations along the way.

As a school, it’s a challenge to create a structured environment that excites deep engagement in our students through projects like “Bacteria Cell Song.” As parents, we want our children to do it all: long division, biology, painting, creative writing, yoga, coding, piano, soccer. We also want them to be self aware, to have the ability to navigate conflict, make good decisions, and seek out problems.

But the school day is only so long— how can we fit it all in?

Perpetual transitions: the challenge with a modular school schedule

IMG_2969At AltSchool, we tried a more familiar model with elective-style classes taught by specialists. In theory, this meets everyone’s needs: students participate in a diversity of experiences; parents feel good knowing that their children are getting, for example, 90 minutes of Mandarin instruction a week, or 45 minutes of art; and dedicated classroom teachers get the breaks needed to plan and take a breath.

But we found that this model required students to make too many transitions each day, interrupting the very focus we hope to nurture. If we silo experiences around, say, music, or tinkering, we miss an opportunity to model the real world in all its interconnected complexity. We also were taking a one-size-fits-all approach when not every student or family wants to delve deeply into foreign language or martial arts, which ultimately limited our ability to personalize.

Reimagining a personalized, interdisciplinary, and real world-based curriculum

So we went back to the drawing board to reimagine how our daily schedule can inspire T-shaped learners— those who obtain a breadth of knowledge across all academic subjects and standards, while diving deep into specific areas of interest. Our goal is to support a flexible, personalized, interdisciplinary day for students, teachers, and parents. We want to expose a student to ideas and provocations she would never seek out on her own and to be able to choose which areas warrant deeper exploration. We believe dedicated classroom teachers need an environment that allows them to fully utilize their many talents and one that provides them with curricular resources that truly support a classroom’s needs. And we want parents to be able to find unique programs before and after school that are fully in line with family priorities.

To fulfill our vision of providing flexibility, depth, breadth, and deep personalization throughout the schedule, we’re taking a three-pronged approach: 1) long, focused blocks for interdisciplinary projects; 2) a network of experts from the local community; and 3) co-curriculars offered before and after the school day.

1) Long-focused blocks for interdisciplinary projects: Our new school day features uninterrupted study periods where students can take a deep dive into a particular interdisciplinary project. Last year, students programmed a gum ball machine to dispense a piece of gum in response to a secret knock. Others learned to use Sketch-Up to create a blueprint for a construction project. Time -- to plan, trial, change course, document -- made these projects possible.

IMG_31892) A network of experts from the local community: We’re building a program that will connect classrooms with experts in their field.  A teaching team will be able to book time with an art historian who can co-teach a six-week arc that weaves together semiotics, visual arts, and literacy. Another classroom can request a session with a capoeira master to wrap up a unit on Brazilian history and culture. Another can work with a robotics expert for an entire semester on applying ratios and rates as they build prototypes of programmable robots. In each case, the use of the specialist is customized to the interests and needs of class members. Our in-class use of experts allows students to get “just-in-time” instruction and support in ways that are relevant to projects that are meaningful to them.

Ultimately, we think this level of flexibility for our educators will increase the amount of time students spend in that state of flow during the school day. Content will be seamlessly integrated into themes and units each class is already exploring, and students will benefit from the magic that is dedicated classroom teachers and experts from the community collaborating and learning together.

IMG_54613) Co-curriculars offered before and after the school day: For the windows of time before and after school, we are building a world-class team of specialists who will offer robust, seasonal co-curricular courses like improvisation, maker lab, and Mandarin language arts. For an additional cost, students can enroll in the courses that most interest and motivate them, and that work with their daily routines and other out-of-school activities. The co-curricular program allows us to expand our offerings across the network based on parent demand and teacher recommendation.

This fall will be our first iteration on this new model. As a community of students, parents, teachers, and employees, there are sure to be challenges, but we’ll be working together to move the vision forward. What subject matter will Jo Jo and the Gang tackle next? Who will they meet along the way? I can’t wait to find out.

Ready to write your own version of the Bacteria Cell Song? Apply to AltSchool.

15_-_1

Read More

Topics: School, Classroom Stories, co-curriculars

First Day of School: Getting Ready for Kindergarten

Posted by Carolyn Wilson

Aug 14, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Kindergarten is a big milestone for children—and for parents, too! Besides buying a new backpack and lunch box, how else can you help your child feel prepared and excited for the first day?

Emotional readiness: limiting those “firsts”

15_-_7Most children are excited about starting school, but the transition can still be bumpy because they simply don’t know what kindergarten is all about. At age 4 or 5, young children don’t have a bank of experiences and memories to draw from. They don’t have the depth of experiences to imagine, realistically, what kindergarten will actually be like. If you say, “your kindergarten experience will be magical,” your child really might expect the teacher to do magic tricks.

Whether your child is excited or has some natural jitters, here are a few simple ways to create realistic expectations over the week or even weekend leading up to day one:

1. Meet other new families

If you haven’t already, schedule a playdate or two with other incoming children. And if your school has arranged play dates, take advantage! This helps your little one bond with some of her classmates, which will only make that first day more exciting.

2. Visit the school together

15_-_4Take a mini trip together to your new school. You can walk around the block, look at the building, or visit nearby parks that the school visits and note, “this is where I’ll drop you off in the morning,” or “this is where you’ll play with your friends.” This helps your child mentally imagine himself in the new environment.

3. Practice her new daily routine

If your child tends to struggle with new routines at school, you can try “playing school” together by going through the school day, including signing in, recess, lunch, and group time. The emphasis here is on “play” — make it fun! Start by modeling at-home morning and bedtime routines. If your child always sleeps in until 8am and she’ll need to wake up at 7am to prepare for school, it’s time to practice that early wakeup the week prior! I’d also recommend preparing as much as you can the night before. Before bedtime, pick out clothes, pack lunch, and put everything in the backpack.

15_-_1-1

4. Schedule drop-off with a friend

Try to schedule arriving at school at the same time with one of her friends. This makes the first day feel more like a scheduled play date for your child, and she will have a built-in buddy to get the day started. Not to mention, you’ll have a buddy too.

5. Make a daily download part of the routine!

Make sure after that first day and week of school you’ve built in a ritual to discuss and download the day. Questions like, “What was your favorite part/hardest part of the day?” or “Who did you play with today?” or “Will you show me what you learned?” can help get the conversation started.

Model the confidence you’d like to foster in your child

Tears? Oh yes, there may be some. (I’m talking about you, not your little one). But as best you can, say goodbye with a smile and wipe your tears away when you round the corner. Remember, your child will look to you for guidance on this big day. By modeling the right kind of excitement— positivity and confidence— you’ll help embody the right energy to make that day a successful one.

IMG_9911

Read More

Topics: School, Lower Elementary, kindergarten