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.
Like other educational facilities, MCS made a hard turn this year from teaching in person to teaching online. This was a big challenge for all subjects, but Math was particularly challenging, considering our usual hands on approach. However, we quickly found that though switching to a virtual world created some initial challenges in math class, it actually had a lot of potential to make our class even stronger with their math skills!
When we approached remote learning for Math, we knew immediately that we wanted our students to still have a hands-on approach if at all possible. We sent manipulatives home for each student so they could have their own set to work with at home. We also used some online virtual manipulatives to create a more interactive experience between teachers and students. Over the summer, we discovered a treasure trove of activities on Desmos and Geogebra that closely align with our philosophy of inquiry and exploration. In addition, we have been able to create physical packets of work that our students can work directly on, so that they are not losing ground on content, but they are also pushing their technology skills forward and have grown so much.
Rather than flipping back and forth between the physical and virtual worlds, we have created a truly blended model that leverages the best of both worlds and ensures that our students are learning deeply and making connections between the physical, visual, and mathematical worlds.
This Time, it's History! We've been working on our Medieval Japan unit in Social Studies, and have been zoning in on the practice of Zen. Here, we have looked at the geography of Japan and the indigenous religion of Shintoism, and how that influenced Zen Buddhism. The students will be constructing their own personal Zen Gardens made out of popsicle sticks and sand. We are excited to see these finished projects, and get a chance to get our hands a little dirty! We're also playing a quick-paced game during class that involves reading, recall, and attention to learn content for this unit. Being able to build at home really helps make this learning come to life!
What makes Science even better? Making it edible! This week, our students learned the intricacies of molecules digging in hands-on, and building their own molecules out of gumdrops and toothpicks. Using an explicit labeling system, we color-coded our candy to match different elements, and took those elements to the next phase to create our molecules. Students even used a variety of toothpicks to represent stronger bonds between elements! Try using edible elements with your child at home to remember chemistry - it's a treat!
Adventures in Remote Teaching continue! This past week, we worked on our visualizing and descriptive vocabulary by describing concrete images to our partners in small groups. Each student envisioned a tree, and drew a picture of what they saw in their minds. We then compared our images, noting the similarities and differences, and added description words to try to make our trees match.
By focusing on Visual Vocabulary, we enable students to get ready for their Descriptive Writing Projects, strengthen vocabulary, and identify how each student processes and holds information. This also focuses the importance of our language and how they help us create images in people's minds. Words are power, and they help us put someone right in the middle of the world we recreate, the event we describe, or even a fun thing we did over the weekend. Not to mention, words are lot of fun!
Just because we're stuck inside doesn't mean learning has to stop! MCS students are doing an awesome job learning remotely through Zoom classes during the shelter in place order. We're even keeping up our hands-on learning practices by building watershed models for Science at home!
If you're looking for some learning activities to do with your child at home, check out our FREE lessons for remote learning! They're complete with hands-on activities and directions to make at home learning fun :)
We hope all the schools out there are finding ways to communicate with their students and keep learning going! Together, we can do it!