THE FWSU STORY: Challenging Students to Become the Next Great Lego Designer

Sixth-graders at GEMS have been inspired this holiday season to discuss and discover what makes a good Lego kit. They were then given the challenge to become the Next Great Lego Designer. Students brainstormed what makes a good designer and quickly went to work.



The class began by creating a Lego structure with 100 or fewer pieces, keeping in mind their target audience of third-grade students. When they were finished they took apart their creations and worked at taking photographs that would help a young student reassemble the exact same structure. These images were then tested on their classmates and the designers made any necessary revisions.



The class then went to the Innovation Lab where they used Google Slides to create a two-page direction sheet for their kits. The final steps were to create per-brick prices followed by an algebraic equation to determine the cost of their kit.



The designers will now be delivering their kits with a feedback form and related comic strip to third-grade classrooms to await the return of their structures and see if their communication was clear.




Will these students become the Next Great Lego Designer? Stay tuned for future posts to find out.

THE FWSU STORY: Celebrations Mark Success for Fletcher Students

Who doesn’t love a great celebration? The observance of a graduation, first job, wedding anniversary or college acceptance, celebrations are a festive and fun way to memorialize the major accomplishments in our lives. They become the “pat on the back” that keeps us motivated to keep up our good work. (After all, isn’t that what we all appreciate about our paychecks?)


Students in Fletcher celebrated meeting school-wide behavior expectations last spring with a kite-flying party on the playground.



The kites were imprinted with the school’s expectations.


Celebrations also play an important role in the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach to student behavior. PBIS utilizes a recognition system based on schools’ school-wide expectations. In Fletcher, those expectations include being respectful, responsible, safe and caring. Throughout the year, teachers and student leaders teach, model and practice what it looks like to follow the expectations across a variety of settings including in the classroom, halls, library and on the busses and field trips, just to name a few.



Two students greet each other at a whole-school celebration in Fletcher. The celebrations typically follow the format of a Morning Meeting and include a greeting, sharing, activity and announcements.


When students follow the expectations, they are often recognized for their efforts with a token, often just a small piece of paper with the school mascot or other catchy design, as well as the expectations. These tokens become the accounting – like tally marks – for their class. In Fletcher, teachers use various wall posters to accumulate the tokens. When the class reaches a set number of tokens, they celebrate.

A Fletcher student practices Yoga as part of a classroom celebration of positive behavior.

A Fletcher student practices Yoga as part of a classroom celebration of positive behavior.

Even more important than the token, however, is the teacher language that accompanies the recognition. Since we want students to be clear about – and repeat – the positive behavior, it is essential that the adult handing out the token name both the expectation the child met as well as the accompanying behavior.

Fletcher students and staff review the school-wide expectations at a whole-school celebration.

Fletcher students and staff review the school-wide expectations at a whole-school celebration.

The adults at school – both teachers and support staff – also hold themselves accountable for behavior using the same school-wide expectations. Norms for staff have been created that align with the school-wide expectations and the adults assess both themselves and the group again the norms periodically after staff meetings. The results of the self and group assessments are shared with all staff for reflection.

Two Fletcher students greet each other with a high five during a whole-school celebration. The celebrations serve to review and practice social skills, celebrate success with behavior and build community.

Two Fletcher students greet each other with a high five during a whole-school celebration. The celebrations serve to review and practice social skills, celebrate success with behavior and build community.

Classroom celebrations need not be lengthy, expensive or disruptive. In fact, celebrations like 10 minutes of special math games or reading a silly story might already be a planned part of the curriculum and don’t require teachers to change their routine or give a tangible reward.

Fifty-eight Fletcher students celebrated having no office referrals during the first trimester this year. The school's trademark blue certificates marked the occasion. Here, one student from each class represents the larger group.

Fifty-eight Fletcher students celebrated having no office referrals during the first trimester this year. The school’s trademark blue certificates marked the occasion. Here, one student from each class represents the larger group.

Typically, when classes meet their set goal for earning tokens, they contribute to a larger, school-wide tally that eventually results in a school-wide celebration.

A Fletcher student puts a token on her classroom PBIS chart.

A Fletcher student puts a token on her classroom PBIS chart.

The PBIS recognition system values all three of these types of celebrations: the individual recognition when a student meets the expectations, reaching the classroom goal and achieving school-wide success. At each level, students are aware of the expectations and understand exactly what they have done and should continue to do.

School-wide expectations are posted throughout the building.

School-wide expectations are posted throughout the building.

Celebrations are are an essential component of PBIS. Within a larger framework of teaching, modeling and practicing accepted behavior, celebrations reinforce students for their hard work and ensure continued behavioral success.

THE FWSU STORY: The Power of Wonder and Choosing Kind


Every now and then a book comes along that transcends age and gender through a compelling story and uplifting message. The best-selling book and new major motion picture Wonder has had that impact on our learning community. Over the past few months through class assignments and discussions, students throughout BFA Fairfax Elementary/Middle School have made connections with the important themes of kindness, bullying, responsibility, overcoming challenges, and friendship.


As educators, we constantly teach and practice with our students the importance of treating all members of our learning community with respect. However, the level of student engagement through Wonder has generated additional and authentic conversations and connections.

For example, each of our first graders identified a way in which they could practice kindness towards others. Additionally, this past Friday, our fourth-grade students led our monthly All School Morning Meeting, during which they shared a slideshow of our students practicing acts of kindness throughout the school. Finally, the entire Middle School will be attending a viewing of Wonder this Friday as a school-wide outing.

Wonder: Choose KindI hope that all schools take the time to read and use Wonder as a vehicle to generate important conversations. I have had the opportunity to witness the positive impact of this story on students and the motivational message for all of us to choose kindness.

Principal Tom Walsh

Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount


THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students Wonder About Bullying and Empathy

Fourth through sixth-grade students in Fletcher viewed the film, Wonder, this morning at the Essex Cinemas. The film chronicles the experiences of Auggie, a brainy 10-year-old fifth grader who has multiple facial surgeries following a car accident.

Wonder Movie Poster

The boy experiences both teasing and empathy in this heartwarming story with an important message about tolerance and acceptance. Here, please take a moment to listen to three students talk about the film and their reactions.


THE FWSU STORY: Application Season at BFA

Throughout a student’s senior year, there are many milestones, deadlines, firsts and lasts. These all come with a mix of anxiety, excitement, and sadness for both the student and their families.


One major event students are currently engaged in is the college application process. Having been through the “application season”  as a teacher, principal, and parent, I feel like I understand the process and the excitement and stress that it creates. For those of you unfamiliar with the college application process, I hope to share my insights; for those of you currently in the mix, I hope to commiserate with you!

The college application process typically begins in a student’s junior year. Shortly after they take a national standardized test, like the PSAT, students start to receive mail (and email) from colleges. These marketing pieces provide a broad overview of the school and encourage students to visit and learn more about how the college might match their interests and personality. Students begin to develop a list of features they are looking for in a college (large or small, rural or urban,…) and a list of colleges that might fit their criteria.


In the spring of the junior year and during the summer before their senior year, students start to visit campuses. This provides the student with the chance to tour the campus, look at classrooms and dorms, meet other students and really get “a feel” for the school. In my experience as a parent, there were campuses that felt right immediately and some that we instantly knew were not going to work. Even if a campus wasn’t a good fit, there was always something to take from the tour-I liked their computer support, the semester abroad program was excellent,…-and look for on another campus. We visited small rural schools, large urban schools and a good range in between for campus tours and open houses.

As the campus tours wind down and the senior year begins, it’s time to make some decisions about the actual application process. When my daughter had narrowed down the list of schools to which she wanted to apply, we created a giant chart with the name of the school, it’s application date, the application cost, and a column to mark that the application was submitted.


At this point, the work falls to the student. They need to complete the application. Most schools use the Common App, so most of the information needs to fill in only one time. Students need to ask teachers for recommendations. This can be difficult for the student since they have to determine which teachers know them best and can provide the best reference connected to their intended major. From a teacher’s perspective, I always wanted to know as much information about the student’s plans and goals to be able to craft the best letter possible. Ideally, students provide teachers with adequate time and information to complete the task. Senior level math, science, and English teachers are in high demand, so the earlier they are asked, the more likely the letter will be done on the necessary timeline.


Students work with their English teachers on their college essay and with the guidance office on transcripts. The school counselors are also busy writing letters of recommendations, answering questions, and generally providing support and encouragement during this stressful time (for students and the counselors!).

Finally, when all the pieces of the application are ready comes the fateful moment when the student clicks “Submit” and puts the decision into the hands of a college admissions officer. And then we wait. Admission decisions start to come in mid-December, but several BFA students have heard from their colleges already (and been accepted!).

And of course, once the acceptance letters come in, it’s time to think about Financial Aid! But, we’ll save the FAFSA and loans and grants for another blog!

THE FWSU STORY: Franklin West Supervisory Union Named 21st Century Learning Exemplar

P21 has designated Franklin West Supervisory Union (FWSU) as a 21st Century Learning Exemplar for 2017-2018 (1 of 16 nation wide). FWSU, comprised of Fairfax, Georgia, and Fletcher schools earned this award for its outstanding practices in equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge for success in college, career, and life.

Partnership for 21st Century Learning logo

In order to become part of the P21 Exemplar Program, schools and districts must demonstrate not just an adequate implementation of the Framework for 21st Century Learning, but also expertise in the elements of Student Agency, Distributed Leadership, a Climate of Achievement, Engaged Community, and use of Evidence and Research.

Innovation Lab

Innovation Labs are an important component of providing 21st Century learning opportunities.

“I could not be happier for our schools, our students, our teachers and our communities to be recognized as a P21 Exemplar Program,” said Superintendent Ned Kirsch. “FWSU schools are focused on the skills and dispositions our students will need to be ready to enter a complex world after they graduate. A world where they will need to be confident in their ability to walk into complicated problems and solve them. Our district’s action plans four targets of proficiency-based personalized learning, leadership, community engagement, and flexible learning environments have really helped us focus on creativity, innovation, and problem finding in all of our classrooms. The targets have also become more learner-centered as well. We are all looking forward to learning with P21 and other P21 exemplar programs in the future.”

Students exploring with Ozobots.

Students create and explore with Ozobots in the Innovation Lab.

David Ross, CEO at P21 stated, “P21’s Exemplar Program works to identify innovative education paradigms across the country. When policymakers say ‘show me what you mean,’ we turn to our P21 Exemplars for hard evidence.”  

global community IVECA partnership

FWSU has partnered with IVECA for students to interact with classrooms around the globe, fostering intercultural competency and empathy.

Linda Keating, FWSU Director of Curriculum and Instruction stated, “FWSU is a progressive and forward-thinking community of learners. The flexible, student-focused practices of our educators enable us to see continuous improvement through the lens of innovation; that’s exciting and motivating.”

Students engage in digital storytelling at FWSU

Students engage in digital storytelling at FWSU.

As part of uplifting the best practices in FWSU, P21 will develop a case study and release it to the public for free download at in the Spring of 2018.

Students create stop motion animation in FWSU.

Students create stop-motion animation in FWSU.

P21 recognizes that all learners need educational experiences in school and beyond, from cradle to career, to build knowledge and skills for success in a globally and digitally interconnected world.  Representing over 5 million members of the global workforce, P21 is a catalyst organization uniting business, government and education leaders from the U.S. and abroad to advance evidence-based education policy and practice and to make innovative teaching and learning a reality for all. Learn more at and @P21Learning.