Category Archives: 6-12

An Invitation

As some of you may know, I made a giant leap outside of my comfort zone this year – leaving a job I had done for 19 years in a district where I had worked for 27.  All 27 of those years were spent teaching elementary school, and now I teach students in 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 10th.

I haven’t said a lot about the school where I now work, so here is a brief summary:

Advanced Learning Academy is an in-district charter school in San Antonio Independent School District.  The school serves PK-12, but only grades 4-12 are housed on the campus where I work, Fox Tech High School.  The Fox Tech campus also hosts a Health and Law magnet school and CAST Tech High School.

ALA opened its doors 3 years ago, a combined endeavor between SAISD and Trinity University.  It is a school “for students who seek academic challenge with greater depth and complexity and opportunities for acceleration.”  Trinity interns work along with the faculty to provide Project Based Learning activities, Design Thinking, and a variety of enrichment activities.

ALA is diverse, with students who live a few blocks away to students who live outside of the city.  No area is “zoned” for our campus, so the only students who attend are those who have applied.

The first, and best thing (in my opinion), that I noticed when I joined the staff here at ALA was the extreme dedication of each and every teacher.  No one is here for “a job.”  They are here because they want to do what is best for children and they want to improve their craft.  The quality of teaching on this campus has completely humbled me.  Know this: if your child attends ALA, his or her teacher will do everything possible to help that student reach his or her potential.

Project-Based Learning means that our Robotics students collaborate with their Humanities peers to create interactive works of art, our Engineering students work with architects to design the new playground and build a chicken coop for the lower campus, and Biology students work with another Robotics class to produce “Operation” games to represent the body systems they have researched.

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Flyer for Student Art Exhibition at 1906 Studio

Design Thinking means that our students know what it means to make a prototype, test it, fail, and revise.  They have time to “go deep” into curriculum, and they often present to their peers, their parents, and outside experts.  We are working on craftsmanship to develop products that will enhance our campus, and will be lasting legacies.

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Student artwork, created in the MakerSpace for the Some Are More Equal exhibit. (Lasercut, woodwork, robotic movement – all created by students)

Enrichment Activities include field trips – lots of them.  Our campus is located downtown, a block from the Central Library, and within walking distance to the Riverwalk, the Tobin Center, and Hemisfair Plaza.  Our students go on at least one field trip a month, often more.  In addition, the grade levels have built in time for students to take “Wonder Courses,” which they can select based on interest.

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ALA students choose the 5 supplies they would take when fleeing their homes.  This was a Doctors Without Borders event hosted at Main Plaza (to which our students walked) from school.

Because of our unique structure, high school students can visit the 4th/5th grade wing to give students feedback on their video game designs, 5th graders can join 6th and 7th graders in programs like Speak Up, Speak Out, and students in grade 4-12 could work together to produce the musical, Shrek.

So, what’s the downside, you ask?

Transportation may be an issue, depending on your location.  There are in-district transfers on buses, but this may mean a long-ish ride for the student.

Because we are small, we cannot offer the number and variety of electives that larger high schools provide.  We do have athletics, a mariachi band, and a theater program.  The only foreign language we offer is Spanish.

Every child is different.  I would have thrived at ALA as a teenager, but my daughter, who wants to be in 10 million clubs and take Latin, would not choose to be here (especially with her mom as a teacher).

This is an invitation to consider our school if you live in the San Antonio area.  You do not have to be an SAISD student to apply.  The application window for our campus is November 26, 2018 – February 8, 2019.  To learn more about the application process, including opportunities to tour (which I highly encourage), click here.

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Gifts for the Gifted – Creative Struggle

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week.  This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start!  For this year’s suggestions so far, click here.

I adore the work of Gavin Aung Than.  His Zen Pencils site features illustrations of inspiring quotes, and he has published several books.  This year, he added Creative Struggle: Illustrated Advice from Masters of Creativity to his long list of accomplishments.  I enjoyed seeing lesser know quotes in the collection, and felt particularly moved by the “Creative Pep Talk #1” entry.  It illustrates the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and supports my philosophy that we should focus more on the process than the product in education.  “Our present education is rotten because it teaches us to love success and not what we are doing.  The result has become more important than the action.”  He criticizes our desire for fame and lauds anyone who “is a creative human being living anonymously.”

This book would be appropriate for teens and up, or for teachers to use in the classroom with any age.  As I try to convince my students to venture outside of their comfort zones and get frustrated with my own creative attempts and failures, the words of Brene Brown, so well depicted in Than’s book, keep me going:

“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

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Creative Struggle by Zen Pencils Cartoonist, Gavin Aung Than

Question Sorts

My engineering classes have been working on helping to design the new playground at Advanced Learning Academy.  On Thursday, the architect, landscape architect, and district Director of Constructor visited the students to explain the process and answer questions.

I wanted to make sure there were some high level questions in there, so I decided to use the “Question Sorts” Visible Thinking Routine from Harvard’s Project Zero. (You can see another post I’ve done about Visible Thinking Routines here.)

Sonya Terborg has a great blog post about questioning here, and I love the quadrant example she gives.

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from Sonya Terborg

My original plan was to use the image in a Padlet.  However, as seems to be the case too often recently, our internet has been wonky.  So, I went somewhat “old school” and had the students use Post-Its on our whiteboard.

I changed the wording a bit, and flipped the labels on the y axis so that the more they cared about the answer to the question, the higher up it would be on the axis.

Although the concept appeared to be difficult for the class at first, they soon got the idea.  As always, some questions were “deeper” than others.  “What is the budget?” was asked more than once, but, “What is your idea of a playground of the future?” got high marks from the students.

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(Some of the PostIts fell off before I took the picture.)

The guests wanted to project a presentation, so they were able to pull PostIts off the board as they answered each question while their slides were on the screen.  It turned out that our primitive method of using the whiteboard was a good call after all!

 

Stratasys 3D Printing Lessons

If you are looking for 3d printing project ideas and curriculum, Stratasys has many free educational resources – you just have to know where to look for them and be willing to give Stratasys your contact info to download the lesson plans and project ideas.

From what I can tell, Stratasys is a company that focuses on providing 3d printing solutions for industrial use.  If you download any curriculum from them, you will probably receive an e-mail or two within a few days asking how they can help you with your 3d printing needs. The inquiries are worth it, however, in order to have access to the activities and lessons you can use with your students.

I have downloaded the Lessons and Project Ideas, Semester Curriculum, and 3d Printing Modules.  Depending on the experience of your students, most of the resources are good for middle and high school students.  You can integrate them into a STEAM curriculum, use them as stand-alone lessons, or make them accessible to students in your Maker Space to jump start some ideas.

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Jody Williams on Activism

Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work as the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, knows something about activism.  You can watch this RSA Animated Short in which she speaks about the importance of trying to make a difference.

Whether you agree with the students who join in the National Walkout today or not, I think that we should take heart that they are moved enough to choose do something rather than nothing.  Often accused of being self-centered and apathetic, these young people will be working to make their voices heard.

You can find more RSA Animated Shorts on a variety of topics here.  I will also be adding this video to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos.

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Pickle – An Ethics Podcast for Kids

Thanks to Sonya Terborg (@terSonya) sharing a tweet from @FriedEnglish101 this weekend, I discovered Pickle this weekend.  Pickle is an ethics podcast for kids produced by WNYC.  The episodes look to be an average of about 20 minutes, and cover topics like, “Would an Elephant Visit a People Zoo?” and “The Friendship Formula.”

Pickle is hosted by two adults – Shumita Basu and Carl Smith – but they consult the “BrainsTrust” of kids during each episode.  I would guesstimate the target age group for this podcast would be 8 years old and up based on the topics and episode lengths.  It seems ideal for family discussions and enrichment classes, and individual topics could be integrated into curriculum as well.

Pickle currently has only 6 episodes (from December 2017), so I’m not sure what the future holds for this podcast.  According to the website, the original series (wouldn’t that be  Cucumber?) was an Australian Broadcasting Corporation production, Short and Curly, which has a few more episodes to offer on its website.

For more resources on talking about ethics with students, check out Not Just Child’s Play, Kids Philosophy Slam Contest, Teaching Children Philosophy,  and 8-Bit Philosophy (appropriate for secondary students).  Also, I recently posted about using some of the thinkLaw curriculum with my students, which is another great way to bring in ethics and critical thinking into your classroom.ethics-2110589_1920.jpg

My Brain on Open-Ended Projects

Thanks to some inspiration on Twitter from Jessica Hirsch (@jhirschcusd), I thought it would be a neat idea to have my 4th grade gifted students try to create Makey Makey Operation games with shapes.  (They are on a Geometry unit in their regular classrooms, so this seemed like a good time to try it.)  As my classroom once again became a Disaster Zone Lab of Innovative Thinkers, I realized that I pretty much go through the same thought process every time we embark on these adventures. I tried to make a visual of it, which you can see below.  I ran out of space at the end, so don’t assume that these things always end on a high note…

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We will hopefully complete the project next week, and I will blog more specifics about it.  If you aren’t familiar with Makey Makey, you can see my post from earlier this year about the Onomatopeia Poetry the students created with Scratch and Makey Makey.  And yes, my brain went through the same steps for that one, too!