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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School lunch with a side of AWESOME at BFA Fairfax

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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Students and staff have been treated to some new, creative, and healthy food options at BFA Fairfax during the start of this school year.  Chef Jason Mashteare and his staff have been dishing up creative spins on classic cafeteria food, as well as offering some new options and flavors.

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The focus on local products has been evident with items such as fresh corn on the cob, salad greens and vegetables, and the multiple ingredients found in Chef Jason’s soups, which have proven to be an enormous hit with students and staff alike.

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On any given day, standard options include a fresh salad bar stocked with many local ingredients, a hot meal ranging from items such as taco bar or General Tso’s chicken, the deli bar for assorted made-to-order wraps and sandwiches, fresh made pizza, burgers (chicken, beef, or black bean), and to top it off, fresh made cookies and frozen yogurt.

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When asked, student favorites have included a chipotle ranch flatbread, the baked potato bar, soups, honeydew melon, the fresh nacho cheese sauce, and corn dog muffins, to name a few.

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We are all excited to see what Chef Jason and his staff will serve up next!  Whatever it is, it certainly will come with a continued side of AWESOME!

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Savoring the “Sticky Bun” Moments in FES

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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Jonathan sat timidly, head bowed, at a round, blue cafeteria table, making himself as inconspicuous as possible while the other students and their families filtered into the gym and found their places in line for the traditional first day of school family breakfast. The room was electric with the chatter of reconnecting students. The polished floor squeaked with the sound of new sneakers and bright new school clothes and backpacks seemed to glow like ornaments on a magnificent holiday tree. Jonathan hung back, his newness to the school glaringly evident and his inability to speak virtually any English seemingly paralyzing.

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Through his Spanish-speaking teacher, Jonathan selected his breakfast, which now sat as silently and still as he did. He showed little interest in the milk, juice or fruit, but stared wonderingly at the warm glistening sticky bun that slowly released white icing over its edges in waves of repelling sweetness and oozed a slow moving molten river of gooey brown sugar from its base.  He leaned in, closed his eyes as if he were a young man about to receive his first kiss, and inhaled slowly through his nose, savoring the comforting and luxurious waft of bread and sweet.

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Slowly, and with surgical precision, Jonathan twisted and detached the sticky bun from his tray with one hand and lifted it to his lips. He gave a final nod of approval before sinking his teeth slowly into the bun like a gentle but equally grand version of Jaws. Immediately, his body melted into the back of his chair. His shoulders sagged and his body went limp. All except the ear-to-ear smile cemented on his face. His legs protruded straight forward, relaxed. He didn’t chew for at least half a minute. Rather, you could see his tongue removing the sugar from the bun in almost effortless motions. Finally, he swallowed.

I soon learned that Jonathan had never seen or eaten a sticky bun before. I got as much pleasure out of watching him enjoy it as I might have if I had swallowed it myself. In that moment, despite all of his obstacles — a new school, a foreign language — he was completely immersed and engaged in the experience of something new. He was taking a risk and loving it.

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As the first day of school went on, I continued to think about Jonathan and his experience that morning. I thought to myself, “Isn’t this exactly what we want teaching and learning to be like every minute of every day? The first bite of the sticky bun!”

I told this story to a group of Fletcher teachers a few days later and invited them to share their “sticky bun” moments from the start of school. When had they observed students so completely savoring something new? What made that particular learning so appealing to them? How can we make all of our teaching and learning moments that engaging?

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The conversation prompted the idea that we would occasionally share “sticky bun moments” at our staff meetings. These are opportunities for staff to share proven strategies that they have used that resulted in student engagement beyond their wildest dreams. The moments that ooze success and drip relevant, personalized sweet learning.

Born out of one student’s experience with breakfast, sticky buns have become the bar for student engagement in Fletcher.


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Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

Relationships Matter at GEMS

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.

Action Step – Ensure students and staff take an active role shaping their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, & diverse resources.

Indicator of Success – Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment.

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For teachers, nothing is more important at the beginning of the school year than getting to know all of the students in a classroom. This “knowing” goes beyond cursory understanding. Positive relationships built with students from the start have a tremendous impact on the entire school year. In order to successfully differentiate, personalize, and instruct students for deeper understanding, every teacher must begin by forging strong connections in the classroom.

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Research states that if this connection occurs, student understanding and teacher instruction become more attainable and valued by everyone involved. Strong teacher-student relationships are not just significant at the start – they must be maintained throughout the school year to ensure continued student learning and growth.

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At Georgia Elementary School, teachers are implementing a variety of activities to embed academics while also fostering relationships. Learning about one another, sharing goals, and classroom activities fill all learning environments throughout the school.

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Time invested in student relationships early on in the year is well spent and promises great outcomes as the year unfolds.

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