BFA Fairfax Middle School Students Capture the Colors of Fall

BFA Middle School has adopted a new tradition and is working to get students to think creatively, be outdoors, and use technology in the form of their 1:1 iPads. The 6th grade just wrapped up their 3rd annual Fall Photo Challenge and the art was absolutely stunning!

Photo by Lori Hamel

Photo by Lori Hamel

This optional challenge received entries from over half of the grade and five winners were selected to have their pictures enlarged, printed and hung in the middle school hallway. The 11×14 framed pictures will remain on exhibit this fall and then will be given to the talented young artists to take home and enjoy with their families.

Photo by Lucy Hackett

Photo by Lucy Hackett

Students submitted pictures taken on their iPads by uploading them to Schoology (no editing allowed) along with a few words about how the photos represented fall. All students could view the submissions, make comments and ask questions about the photographs. This proved quite popular and a lot of dialogue followed each submission.

Photo by Molly Wimette

Photo by Molly Wimette

Students were very creative, with some entries featuring completely natural scenes while others highlighted their talents by selecting and arranging items that represented fall in Vermont. Student feedback was very positive and they enjoyed the opportunity to engage in this extra-curricular activity with peers in a friendly challenge.

Photo by Hazel Albee

Photo by Hazel Albee

The panel of anonymous judges found it extremely difficult to only choose 5 photographs to frame and look forward to the next photo challenge in January that will feature a winter theme.

Photo by Michelle Lynch

Photo by Michelle Lynch


Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Indicator of Success – Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

No Homework at BFA Middle School

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As a middle school we have participated in numerous discussions over the past decade about the role of homework in the learning process.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we were never able to come to consensus about the purpose and impact of assigning homework. This year we made a leap of faith and decided to stop assigning homework to our students.

We based this decision on several factors.  Our primary reason was that current research indicates that there is no evidence that homework increases academic benefits.  One argument that I often hear is that doing homework develops responsibility and prepares students for high school.  Our school views homework as an opportunity for independent practice that should reinforce a student’s understanding of a concept.  However, often times homework is an additional burden for students and parents to complete after a long day of work, school, and co-curricular activities.  Frequently the unintended outcome is that students are practicing the concept incorrectly, further interfering in the learning process.

Another consideration for our staff was equity.  There are many factors that impact learning in and outside of school such as socioeconomic status and education levels in the home.  We know that there is a wide discrepancy between the readiness levels for learning as a result.  Equity is about providing the same opportunity and considerations to all students. Due to these important factors we concluded that assigning homework creates and exacerbates inequity.  

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Finally, brain research also suggests the need for students not to overload their brains when learning new information. As a parent of a middle-schooler, I struggle to find enough hours in a day. Frequently, we do not arrive home until 7:00 p.m. from co-curricular activities and after having dinner we begin homework. The result is usually a battle of tiredness and frustration. Nothing about the process supports learning or independent practice.    

We have received no complaints about our decision to not have homework. We will continue to monitor this decision and we welcome feedback about the role of homework in the learning process. As for now, we feel good that students are giving us their best effort all day long and turning their energies toward other important endeavors in their life.  

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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

From Molecules to Organisms: Structure and Process

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step -Provide students with access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls

Indicator of Success – Students are engaged in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings.

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This year our seventh and eighth grade students are concentrating on Life Science content – NGSS (New Generation Science Standards) Standard 4-251, from molecules to organisms: structure and process. Beginning with plant cells, moving to photosynthesis, students are on their life science journey.

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Students were initially presented with information regarding cells, organelles and their functions. All living organisms and their component cells have identifiable characteristics. All living things exhibit patterns of similarities in their structure, behavior and biochemistry. The stages the students learn begin with cell function, moving into photosynthesis, from photosynthesis to how trees produce energy, then the last stage, classifying tree characteristics.

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GEMS students are producing Leaf Guides that include a diagram and identifying parts of leaves, including identifying what trees the leaves belong to. They are starting with the smallest cells to leaf identification, and ultimately to producing a leaf guide that will align with tree identifications.

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Fortunately for GEMS, we were able to reach out to a Georgia community member, Greg Drew, who has been a wonderful resource identifying trees on our school property for the students. Mr. Drew is a professional craftsman who creates unique and individual pieces from local wood.

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For the culminating event students will have to create a drawing or a pic collage representing photosynthesis and using their Leaf Guides to correctly identify trees on our property.

It is great to have an environment that allows students to conduct hands on field studies!

Active Learning at BFA

Students in Mrs. Klein’s 7th grade Language Arts class have been learning about direct quotes and dialogue in literature.

bfamoves3 Recently, Mrs. Klein took an opportunity to add movement and fun into a topic that students often find confusing: punctuation.

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She taught them how to punctuate dialogue and quotations using kinesthetic movements complete with sound effects.

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Afterward, one student said, “I thought it was really fun and it will help me remember the way it goes.”


Target 1. Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

 

GEMS 6th Grade Class Takes on Red Paper Clip Challenge

Target 1. Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step: Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

Indicator of Success: Students and staff will participate in a global dialogue to engage in authentic investigation and problem solving with partners located outside of their school community.

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How far can bartering take someone?  A sixth grade teacher at GEMS, Matt Toof, replicated a project called “One Red Paperclip.”

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The following is from Matt’s blog:

“We just finished our first day of school and already need help. We are trying to determine the value of “One Red Paperclip.”  Sounds weird, right?  Well, back in 2005 Canadian blogger, Kyle McDonald, traded a paperclip for a pen.  The pen was then traded for a hand sculpted doorknob.  With the doorknob he continued to make a series of trades that eventually landed him a house.  That’s right, I said a house!  Now, we are not looking for a house. Surely, no sane individual would ever want to live in a house with sixty something 6th graders!  However, we’d like to see how far we can go with one red paperclip.  This is where you come in. What is our one red paperclip worth to you? Make us a reasonable offer. Our hope is to bring the offers back to the sixth graders. In turn, they’ll decide which item to swap for the next deal. We’ll continue to make a series of barters until they get something special enough to donate to the school or community.”

The following are the deals that have been made to date:

One Red Paperclip for local maple syrup and jelly

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Local maple syrup and jelly for a new soccer ball, used cleats and socks

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New soccer ball, used cleats and socks for…

(pending – we are still taking offers)

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  We will try to keep you posted to let you know what that One Red Paperclip turns into at the end of the project.

STEM Learning Continues at GEMS

Target 1. Student Centered Learning: FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step: Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

Indicator of Success: Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

 

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STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

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GEMS-stem7STEM is an interdisciplinary and applied approach that keeps students engaged and learning through a “plan, design, and improve” method.

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Teachers work exclusively with their STEM coach to plan and collaborate the implementation and cross-cutting approach to embedding all disciplines.

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Students love STEM!  

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For more information about STEM, read this article.

Schoology Arrives at FWSU!

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school
classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners. FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

The time for a full Schoology launch has arrived at FWSU. After a year of study, months of behind-the-scenes work, three weeks of teacher preparation and student introduction, the system is now ready for parents! Letters with unique access codes were mailed home this week.

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Initial setup of accounts is easy to do with the instructions mailed home. If you have any trouble please feel free to contact your school of the district office for help. Once you are set up navigation is easy and based on the concepts of many social media sites. If you are stuck there are also lots of “how to” videos. Or you can always ask your student for help!

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We believe that Schoology will allow all of our parents, students and teachers to stay connected in a very user-friendly and safe environment. Only those with password access will be allowed into our system. Learn more about Schoology safety and privacy here.

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Schoology on any platform that can access the internet. In addition to being available on a web browser, you can also download the free App for any phone or iPad.

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The time has come — let’s COLLABORLEARN!

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