It's Spring, which means it's a perfect time for Shakespeare! Each year, we chose a different Shakespearian play to study in depth, and perform in our Theater Class at our year end graduation. This year, we're studying A Midsummer Night's Dream, discussing Story Structure and plot devices in Literature, Character Traits in LA, and behavior, movement, and motive in Theater. At home, the students worked on creating their own Story Mountain by inserting the plot points at their appropriate place on the story arch. This exercise helps focus not only on story structure, but sequencing and working memory as well. Students also practiced their Shakespeare through pre-learning by practicing a dinner scene with their families that introduced Elizabethan vocabulary. Learning about Shakespeare is so much fun, and it gives us such a wonderful opportunity to integrate our curriculums. We're can't wait to take the stage!
By Learning Specialist, Beth Powell
During the summer of 2020, My City School considered how to leverage technology without losing the benefits of hands-on and highly interactive instruction. When sheltering in place first began, our emergency response was to send manipulatives home and teach live via Zoom. This approach worked really well in the short term. We were able to recreate our four pillars of instruction and transformative learning continued. But when the reality sunk in that we would not be returning to in-person instruction in the Fall, the MCS team researched the best technology practices, collaborated with each other to create a consistent experience regardless of if we would be in remote or in person learning, and considered the impact of using technology with our students.
One of the exciting aspects of integrating technology into our school is that there are so many tools, apps, and programs to choose from. At first, we were entranced and looking at every option. Then we took a step back and thought about which programs would empower our students, both in a time of immediate need, and into high school and college. This helped us to sort quickly through our options. We knew our students and teachers needed a clear and straightforward organizational system built in to the program. Because we were already using Google Classroom, it was natural to continue, so we took a deeper look at how to use it more effectively during remote instruction. We were already using ReadWorks and Newsela, which allows us to differentiate reading levels while providing the same content in various topics, and added in EPIC! as another tool to provide cross-curricular reading.
In order to gain a better understanding of how to best use technology, one of our learning specialists began the International Standards for Technology in Education (ISTE) certification process. As part of her coursework, she learned about the SAMR (substitute, augment, modify, reimagine) instructional model which helped to further frame conversations about how to best use technology at MCS.
As a learning community committed to transforming education, we knew we didn’t want to forgo what we had learned about hands on learning. We are comfortable using Zoom as a substitute for a live classroom and breakout rooms for small group conversations. We knew we wanted our students to continue to build with physical objects, write and draw on paper, and talk about their thinking. What we discovered is that we could still do all of those activities and provide digital platforms that made it easier to facilitate conversations in the moment.
We learned to modify instruction to improve conversations between students using google slides, jamboard, and quizzes. Now, instead of showing a piece of paper, students are able to put their drawings, pictures, ideas into a slide or a jamboard and then compare their thinking and understanding with other students. It also allows teachers to provide individualized feedback easily while student are working.
This was imperative in math because so much of our learning comes from student drawings and discussions, which is then followed up by independent work. While showing white boards on screen was effective in a pinch, having online explanations that students could easily flip through increased attention and deepened discussions as a result. During independent time, students work on paper but check their answers in google quizzes to ensure prompt feedback.
Our students had used Desmos in previous years to support understanding of the Cartesian plane, but we were thrilled to discover the classroom activities which cover more content. The activities are designed in an interactive, self-paced style that matches what our students are used to. These activities ask questions like “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” and allow students to create their own questions or puzzles that classmates can solve. Desmos is a tool that we know our students will continue to benefit from for years to come. We have been able to go deeper with content as a result of this tool, and learning how to use the tool is a natural experience, embedded within the coursework. As a result, our students feel comfortable tinkering with the program and get to teach the class and the teachers new tricks!
Using technology in Social Studies helped us to continue to play games as a way to learn about history. Google Slides allowed us to play even more complex games that helped put historical knowledge into action. Some were in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” form where you decided what role you would play in Medieval Societies and then learn of your fate.
During the winter months, our students usually complete a project for the San Francisco Science Fair, but due to covid restrictions, we knew this event would not be taking place. At MCS we place a high value on community events that allow our students to interact with their peers and adults. Luckily, we found a wonderful project hosted by NASA that allowed us to continue our tradition of integrating writing, math, and science into one project. We watched videos and explored the moon’s landing sites. Students then broke into separate research teams, created a summary slide, and reported back to the class what they had learned. They practiced executive functioning skills, including making checklists for the contest rules, expectations, and deadlines. They worked on space-themed math and completed a short, creative writing piece explaining a new invention they created to help with the mission. The essay was submitted to NASA for the contest which will allow them to join a live presentation with an astronaut. This is a great example of how we were able to maintain our standards of integrated projects, while creating an entirely new experience thanks to technology.
We are looking forward to returning to in-person education. Teaching remotely brought many challenges, which teachers across the world rose to meet. But with that challenge came many gifts. We have a better understanding of how to make sure our students have basic technology skills, like uploading a picture into google slides and using email. Our students have a new understanding of privacy on the internet and how they may be giving their data away. And, most importantly, we have expanded our commitment to multisensory learning through the use of hands-on materials, drawing and writing, and technology.
As our world gets warmer, slowly consumed by trash and negative human impacts, it is more important than ever that we take a stand for our planet. This month, our students wanted to make sure their voices were heard by attending the Climate Crisis March in downtown San Francisco. Together, they joined thousands of passionate students from all over the Bay Area (and the world) to march in a fight for the future of our environment. Calls for action and responsibility were made throughout the streets as students carried so many handmade signs and flyers. It is so important that we work towards a better future, and so dire that students stand up for theirs - we are so proud of them!
With the world in its current state, we are quickly running out of fossil fuels, and are digging a larger and larger whole in our ozone. Our environment needs help, and won't be sustainable without appropriate action from humanity. As our Science class discussed when talking about energy, the current system of fuel is insufficient for producing what humanity needs long (or even short) term. By protesting in solidation with the powerful Greta Thunberg for renewable energy, our students are hoping to bring about action towards saving our world and their home. Visit the Climate Reality Project to learn about what you can do to spread awareness and help protect our planet today!
It's Election Day, so of course it's the perfect time to take a class trip to the Capital! MCS students got to experience traveling as a group out to Sacramento to take a tour of the Capital building. Students took time on the bus to play learning games with each other, and read their pleasure reading books. Once in Sacramento, the class got to learn about traveling on public transit, and how to navigate getting around a new place by using the train system. It was a long journey, but eventually we made it to the Capital!
On our tour, we learned some excellent facts about California, and how our system of government works. Students discussed how a bill becomes a law, the differences between the House and the Senate, and how our judicial branch functions. We also learned a lot about the physical architecture of the building, and the importance of color coding in House and Senate. Did you know the California State Senate is decorated in red to symbolize the monarchy, but the 2 thrones heading it remain empty to demonstrate our rejection of that system? Who knew those colors were so important!
All in all, we had an awesome day learning, and it was great to explore part of our government first hand. We had a long day, but it was worth it! We encourage you to investigate more about your government too, and become informed as well! You never know what you might discover! Remember, your voice counts - Happy Voting Day, everyone!
We've had a busy week so far! Students studied outdoors at Muir Beach, improved their Executive Functioning skills in Math and Literature, and even looked at Art History at the Legion of Honor. Check out our adventures in learning below!
MCS students explore geological processes in the real work at Muir Beach for Science!
Field trip! MCS dives into History and Art with a visit to the Legion of Honor to study works from the Middle Ages.
In Math, students create strategy sheets and separate strategy cards intended to be mixed up and paired back together. This separates and supports the visual, language/verbal/symbolic and written portions of learning, which is great for working memory challenged students or for students with attention challenges.
Our wellness classes this week focused on working through situations with friends in need, and how to best communicate in a positive way with one another.
A day in the field...making observations, collecting and logging data...
Students present customized Human Impact lessons learned from SFSU CAD student's.
San Francisco Science Fair Time.....Congrats for 4th place and two Honorable Mentions! Great Job Everyone!
Area and Perimeter - Using your feet! Searching for congruent and similar objects.
Applying circumference, diameter and radius, dissecting word problems, tacking History Math and probability.
Lawrence Hall of Science...
Math Warm ups, PEMDAS and Pythagorean theorem
Neighborhood Clean Up, Trash Dissections and Human Impacts Math. How can we remove the trash in the bay?
Did you know only 9% of plastic is recycled! It's estimated that (from a 2015 study) that 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans EVERY YEAR!
Let's examine how much plastic MCS uses in 7 days...counting...wow...this is A LOT! 568 pieces from 10 people...biodegradable bags anyone? See our plastic challenge for more details...
A little hanging round and some PE...
November was our science study of Space Systems, which provided amazing experiential learning opportunities! We explored outer space and our solar system at the Chabot Space Center, which prepared students for recording the phases of the moon. We tracked the movement of the sun with Sun Spotters, watched a Planetarium show at the California Academy of Sciences, and took a tour of the night sky complete with Native American legends provided by one of our very own parents (who used to travel with an astrology team and a pop up camper teaching the solar system to students). Students also found themselves inspired by the STEAM carnival held at AT&T Park. Critical thinking science questions for the month were:
Group math topics included comparing and contrasting ratios and probability. After a few rounds of grabbing random objects from a bag, students created a graph of their data that showed the difference and connection between the two concepts of ratios and probability. Students also made connections to space with proportion and scale and began the hands on introduction to algebra for some while providing random review for others. Individual math time continued to focus on individual skills and memory strategies.
Literature: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton was chosen because of its connection to DNA, genetics, artificial and natural selection, and ethics, and provided a movie with Spark Notes to ensure understanding of the text (which will be invaluable in high school and college, when they will need to know how to use these resources on their own). We introduced students to Spark Notes and or Cliff Notes and practiced using them, which will be revisited yearly. Students wrote multiple essays, and took two tests. Students’ essays focused on the following:
Through this, students began to build healthy judgements, evaluate opinions and stereotypes, which was the foundation for upcoming debates.
Language Arts Grammar had a heavy focus on building up student’s vocabulary, with writing warm ups for commonly used words. There are two parts to this activity: 1) students brainstorm as many adjectives they can think of. Once typed out, students arrange them in ascending order to understand the value or weight of each word they will use in their writing.
Narrative writing was the focus for November. Students began this unit by writing a personal narrative, then connecting to Art, which branched off into a narrative essay based on a famous painting. This exercise had each student examine a famous painting with which he/she connected. Some of the painting images chosen were Norman Rockwell, Diego Rivera, and Monet. Students began by brainstorming with their story mountains to differentiate between background, rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion. Two drafts were written, individual feedback provided for each and ultimately a very creative, written piece of work was completed.
For History students were introduced to the foundation of the American political system and the ways in which citizens participate in it. Students examined firsthand the voting process, and made connections to math by discussing how one vote, talking with friends about politics, writing letters about an issue of concern, and volunteering on a campaign can exponentially increase impact in the democratic process. The message was "Yes, it's important to vote but it's also important to participate in other ways." They also learned about corruption in some of the polling stations which was discovered by a mathematician. Math connections were re-enforced in history, as students experimented with the process of probability as it relates to voting. Students learned to develop a broader perspective of American Revolution by reading and discussing the flip perspective book The Split History of the American Revolution focusing on the American perspective side. Students also visited the Museum of American Heritage to learn about how people previously lived to make connections to what life was like before the inventions they learned about.
Executive Functioning focused on strengths each student has and what are the skills they need the most support in. Over two class periods, students were given a list of 74 Executive Functioning skills that are needed for middle and high school, and life and rated themselves. Students were paired up based on opposing executive functioning skills and peer teaching began. Each week we worked on specific skills that support the upcoming math, writing or science lessons. This looked like abstract brain games before a math test, visual spatial exercised before studying speed and distance for science, geometry puzzles for math or category word work.
Wellness focused on mindfulness and mindful eating. One experiment involved students eating while watching a movie, then documenting what they ate, what it tasted, smelled, felt and looked like. Later, students tried the same foods while not watching anything and built their list of descriptive words …students had an a ha moment when they realized they could provide over 40 more words to describe what they ate when focused on their food(and not watching a movie). Additionally, Jennifer Russ returned as the Mindfulness Coach for an afternoon with the students introducing them to ways they can become more mindful and the benefits of doing so.
Art for the last two months included the basics of color theory, painting a landscape of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park and creating mosaic beetles. All students showed up at different levels and each piece of work reflected individual themes that came up in wellness.
We kicked of the 2015-16 school year with an MCS picnic at Aquatic Park. Families and students gathered the Saturday before the first day of school to connect with new and older members of our community and to strengthen current bonds between students and the MCS families. Students played catch, cards, shared summer stories and went swimming. We usually spend these few hours together at the beginning of each school year to re-familiarize the students and dramatically reduce first day jitters.
We also spent a couple of energetic weeks on team building and exploration of student preferred learning styles at the Fulton Playground Clubhouse in the Richmond District (SF). Our Wellness class began by exploring each student’s preferred learning styles though a variety of hands on, multi – sensory activities. Our new students were surprised to learn about what their personal themes were, and motivational factors that showed up. Our returning students found themselves either diving deeper into their favorite themes or becoming interested in new topics. We also take a significant amount of time to teach students about their brain, what side of their brain they utilize most, and compared that to their past educational environments. This normalizes their past learning experiences and prepares them for a new more positive learning experience.
September and October
In art, students experienced painting landscapes in nearby Golden Gate Park, as well as spending time making observations of plant and animal adaptations. We enjoyed getting to know our new neighbors by supporting the Richmond District Neighborhood Center and volunteering in their food pantry for local seniors. As we eased into the school year, students started diving into their core subjects: math, literature, and science. They also began yoga, executive functioning, history, Brain Gym, basketball and wellness class.
September and October were full of integrated learning. In History, we focused on the American Revolution, with literature being tied in through the novel Attack of the Turtle, which centered around the making of the first submarine. Students visited the USS Pampanito, a submarine, and the Balclutha, an early 1900’s cargo ship, both docked in SF. History and Science co-mingled as students looked at their own personal and family history and dove into DNA, genetics, and evolution; including natural selection and adaptations. Adaptation exploration was further examined during an ongoing community service project with Save the Bay and their SEED program, where local shoreline bird characteristic traits were observed and the students noted what helped the birds adapt to their environment.
My City School would not be complete without multiple trips to our favorite museum, the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), where we deepen our current studies in science and history. We strive to drive curiosity and maintain motivation for learning through hands-on experience, thoughtful questioning, and reflective writing. We foster the scientific process particularly through CAS classroom kits. Students also excavated fossils and examined strata rock at the Mission Science Workshop and worked with USF science instructors for two sessions of individualized experiential leaning. Some of the critical thinking science questions students had to answer this month were:
At the start of the year, math was kept extra fun and engaging in hopes of alleviating anxieties around these subjects. We launched the math class with group activities to determine the strengths and weakness of each student and to get a clearer picture of
Where they were with their learning in terms of computation and what they could apply.
We used a combination of group games, hands on activities and individual work with our instructors. From there, we spent extensive time with students helping them understand that the math book to work from may be at a level where they are challenged but would not be overwhelming. For some students, this meant they were working a few grades below their grade level. They were assured that they would also be learning at or above their grade level during group review or independent work with the instructor. And, for students who had significant issues with math, they learned they would finally get some help and move beyond the issues and regain their confidence. One experience that is encouraged every year, is for returning students to explain how they had been working at a fourth grade level last year, but were now working at their current grade level (7th and 8th). It was so rewarding to hear our returning students assuring the new students they really would bridge the gap, have fun and stay positive in doing so.
For new students who struggle in math, MCS spends much of the first half of the year:
As a result, students are able to break down a problem and identify the parts they know, and articulate what they need help with understanding. They also discover the difference between understanding and applying what they know versus just getting the work done. The biggest payoff of all is that they learn to use their math book for support and develop a rigorous work ethic
During Language Arts, class starts, as it often does, with writing warm ups. For example, students listen to a short story, visualize it, draw their visualization, and then compare the picture they each created to the actual picture in the book. Another way class began was by building a word bank for common adjectives while tossing a ball among the group. Because picturing what one hears or is reading about is key to descriptive writing, MCS spends a significant amount of time building this strategy up at the beginning of the year. Students created a fantasy picture, wrote a descriptive essay about their art, then passed just the essay to a peer and had them draw what they imagined from the essay and compared the two pictures. Follow up discussions took place as a group to examine the differences and what words created the images. Grammar focused on sentence structure, punctuation, and adjective word building, all of which was incorporated in the descriptive writing.
Executive Functioning (managing time and skill building) always begins with helping students establish their organizational structure for the year. Building self-awareness and identifying what the student’s strategies are when they hit a road block are key stepping stones to success for the year ahead. Following the foundation work in EF, we next focused on problem solving strategies. We continue with support for each student’s organizational needs and the building of healthy homework habits, which we expect to continue throughout the school year. Students were also introduced to a tool that they will use throughout their time at MCS called a Discussion Sandbox. It serves as a guide to develop their critical thinking, analysis and discussion skills. This is pulled directly from common core and students are expected to know all elements noted on the Sandbox fluidly by 9th grade. One example to build perspective and support flexible thinking, (connecting to history), students read the Flip Book Perspective on the American Revolution and George vs. George. Discussions took place examining each side’s perspective, while utilizing the Discussion Sand Box.
The start of Yoga Class focused on introducing core strengthening exercises, posture and abdominal breathing to activate the Vagus Nerve. Each yoga class included relaxation techniques, and understanding what our bodies are telling us for a mind body/connection. Learning to identify how we feel, connecting this to our experiences and what this does to our heart rate, and chemistry, are a regular discussions in every yoga class. At My City School, we approach yoga from an individual and group experience level. Warm ups include stretching, strengthening exercises, posture and breath work. Once complete, students practice group poses which foster team building and learning to rely on each other, self advocacy and trust.