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AltSchool Hub

My Daughter's First Day at AltSchool

Posted by Max Ventilla

Aug 30, 2016 4:53:34 PM

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When we started AltSchool, we had the lofty goal to create a place where parents would be more than happy to send their children; they might even be a little jealous of their children for getting to go. Three and a half years later, my daughter Sabine started at AltSchool this week. I feel that littlest bit of jealousy alongside enormous excitement.

My daughter is so different from me, and the world she is growing up in is so different from that of my childhood. But, I am reassured knowing that Sabine goes to school with exceptional educators who have the freedom and support to prioritize her development. I am thrilled that, as my daughter grows and her passions and strengths evolve, my wife and I can expect her school experience to meet her needs academically and socially. I’m grateful that as a family, we can deeply engage in our daughter’s education while preserving flexibility for our family life.

It is wonderful to get to be part of a school that is changing as fast as my child and the world around us. Every year, the AltSchool team looks back on the past twelve months and, in partnership with our school communities, we focus on the most meaningful changes we can make. We incorporate relevant research from the education space and explore what is possible as an organization with deep technical capabilities. To begin this school year better than the last, our engineers worked on tools that could enable the creation of a rich portrait of each student that could build in depth and breadth each year. As a parent, I am eager to be involved in the creation of that Portrait and to be able to follow my daughter’s journey.

At AltSchool, Sabine will be with adults all day who model a growth mindset. As a parent, I am proud to be part of this 21st century approach to education that will empower not only my child but, with time, many many more children. I look forward to sharing the journey with all of the new and returning families at AltSchool both here in the Bay Area and in New York City.

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Topics: School, Thoughts from Our Founder

San Francisco Homeless Project and Two Inspiring AltSchool Students

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 29, 2016 11:02:50 AM

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This week we’re witnessing an unprecedented collaboration of over 70 local news organizations coming together to highlight homelessness in the Bay Area. Starting today, you’ll see the topic take center stage, with everyone from KQED to the San Francisco Chronicle tackling the problem and discussing options.

AltSchool is proud to share some incredible work around homelessness by two Fort Mason middle school students. Inspired by the people and places they encounter within their own communities every day, Ethan and Gio began a many-months journey -- one that took them from the classroom, to a field-trip at Marc Roth’s The Learning Shelter program, and ultimately to a TEDx stage where they shared their vision for a “tiny home” prototype.

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Ethan and Gio were so personally affected by the plight of homeless individuals around them, they chose the problem of homelessness in the city of San Francisco as the focus for their culminating “changemaker” project.

One day after school I was driving with my mother,” Ethan shared. “We went past a parking lot near 16th Street and the 101 and I noticed that there were a large number of tents under the bridge… about 30 tents in all.”

Something clicked, as he realized that unlike his family, those people wouldn’t have warm beds to sleep in that night. Gio had had similar experiences living in San Francisco and shared a passion to impact homelessness in a meaningful way. As they considered the idea, they came across a powerful interview with Ronald Davis, a Chicago man who reportedly died homeless in 2014.

“You lose all your humanity shaking a cup begging,” Davis said. “At the end of the day when people go home, and everybody get on the metro train and then I just feel so bad that I can’t be going home too.” His story hit home for Ethan and Gio. Ronald Davis’ story fueled their belief that society has a responsibility to provide basic needs, safety and job opportunities to every one of its people. It shaped the kind of changemaker they wanted to become, not just as students, but as human beings.

So, they teamed up and soon discovered work by Gregory Kloehn, an artist who builds mini homeless houses in Oakland. With the guidance of their teachers, they spent many months learning, interviewing, debating, and finally developing a unique split-level tiny home on wheels that can provide security and private living space. They unveiled their 3D-printed prototypes and shared more about their project on the TEDx Youth stage last month, which we invite you to view in full here.

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We applaud Ethan and Gio. They embody what we are trying to teach at AltSchool: to practice empathy, identify passions, develop their voice, have accountability, and positively impact the lives of people in their community.

Read about the SF Homeless Project campaign, featuring more AltSchool middle school students, in today’s San Francisco Chronicle piece: "We can learn from kids and the empathy they have for San Francisco's homeless."

Changemakers: At AltSchool Fort Mason, the middle school class led by their teachers Christie Seyfert and Vincent De Jesus, embarked on a year-long study of systems and were beginning a unit on “changemakers”; someone who can influence the evolution of today’s systems for a better future. Students were challenged to identify a system in need of change, research the problem, interview experts, and propose solutions by way of “Shark Tank” pitches, then create prototypes and work toward changing that system in a tangible way. The lesson combines interdisciplinary project-based learning, incorporating core subjects like math, social studies and writing, along with social-emotional skills like public speaking, teamwork, empathy, and more.

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Topics: School, Learning in the Community, Middle School, Community

A Sneak Peek at our Summer Maker Labs

Posted by Kristin Uhlemeyer

Jun 17, 2016 9:33:05 AM

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I want my students to walk away from my classes with more questions than when they entered. My goal is to engage their curiosity, inspire exploration, and empower them with the skills and ability to find the answers on their own. Every student should leave the classroom excited to learn more and looking forward to the next school day.

Helping students to start building, tinkering, and creating gives them a chance to guide their own learning and be fully engaged with the subject matter. At the end of the day, Maker culture is motivated by curiosity and fun, making it the perfect model for shared student-led classroom experiences.

The Summer @ AltSchool Maker Labs are full of exciting projects, recycled and reused materials, Lego Robotics, Snap Circuits, drop cloths, and more. I am definitely not afraid to get a little dirty and create a few explosions. In the immortal words of Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Summer is the perfect opportunity to embrace the Maker mentality and the process over the product. I love that we can focus on one topic in depth and allow for extended, uninterrupted project time. I can give students more time to experiment and experience the glory of failure, which provides diving boards for new learning opportunities.

The curriculum is made up of a compilation of lessons from other teachers and inspirations from Stanford and the Exploratorium. I’ve tried these lessons with students and we continue to refine them (being a teacher is just like being a Maker!). AltSchool has provided amazing professional development opportunities which have greatly influenced me as an educator. These experiences have helped me define my ideas of the Maker philosophy and how it can translate to AltSchool’s summer curriculum.

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Kristin Uhlemeyer is a full-time AltSchool educator who also develops the curriculum for Summer Maker Lab Sessions. This is her third year teaching Summer @ AltSchool. She previously taught summer programs at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and was a counselor for Camp Invention.

Interested in joining Kristin and the rest of our amazing educators this summer? Two-week summer sessions run from June 20-August 12 in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Brooklyn. Learn more about our Maker Lab sessions including Robotics, Game Design, and Design Thinking.

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Topics: Meet the Team, Summer, Classroom Stories

First Look at AltSchool East Village

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 17, 2016 9:32:30 AM

We recently put the finishing touches on AltSchool East Village, our newest school in New York City. We’ve created a responsive learning environment that will support each student’s process of self-discovery, giving them the tools and confidence to pursue their interests while building strong academic skills.

Our new Head of School, Alex Ragone, and the entire teaching team are excited to welcome new families this fall. Alex brings 18 years of experience teaching in and leading independent schools in New York City. He will join experienced AltSchool educators from our San Francisco and Brooklyn Heights schools -- Jaqi Garcia, Sophia Espinoza, and Jamie Stewart -- to start the inaugural year at AltSchool East Village.

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Who we are - When designing the space, we always want to incorporate our learning cycle, milestones, values, and the people who make the school come alive. You will find pictures of our educators and students spread throughout the space, as well as visual representations of our learning cycle.

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Flexibility - We understand that each child learns differently and that the learning environment plays an important role. There is consideration for different activities -- core skills, small group work and entire class projects. In our classrooms you will find moveable desks and walls, a place for morning meetings, and space for independent work. Over the course of each school year we make changes based on observation of our students as they grow and as discover themselves as learners.

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Community - Experiencing and learning from the local community is an essential part of AltSchool’s educational approach. We reach out to local businesses and resources, and create lessons involving the unique elements of our locations. Students visit local parks or community gardens every day.

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Documentation - Documentation of project work makes a school’s walls come to life. We’ve borrowed amazing projects from our Brooklyn Heights school to incorporate into the space. As the school year starts, we will begin to add new student work to the walls of each classroom.

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Provocations - Adding provocations sparks delight, wonder and engagement in students. In AltSchool East Village there are prisms in the windows and hidden stickers for the students to find.

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A message from our new Head of School, Alex Ragone: “I'm passionate about the idea of bringing student-centered, project based learning to a wider audience through AltSchool's microschool model. AltSchool East Village will be a school where students are empowered to become lifelong learners, critical questioners and solution finders. We will create deeply meaningful learning experiences for children and adolescents while building strong academic skills. We're going to start by getting to know each other, building a school community and exploring the local neighborhood. I can't wait to explore the East Village and the Lower East Side with the children!”

We are currently accepting applications for limited spots at AltSchool East Village for fall 2016.

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Topics: School, Meet the Team, Locations

Teacher Appreciation Week at AltSchool

Posted by The AltSchool Team

May 4, 2016 12:09:51 PM

AltSchool is lucky to work with some of the best teachers in the world. They inspire our entire organization to give our students the best education possible and to create the future of education.

We asked members of different to teams to share their feelings about AltSchool’s teachers and here is what they had to say:

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Want to write a message to your favorite AltSchool teachers? Download the template, write a message or draw a picture, and upload it to social media. Don’t forget to tag @AltSchool and #TeacherAppreciationWeek!

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Topics: School, Meet the Team

AltSchool Dogpatch’s Gala Evening of Art

Posted by Annette Bauer

Apr 28, 2016 12:23:14 PM

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AltSchool Dogpatch celebrated the culmination of our Unit of Inquiry on art and self-expression by hosting a Gala Evening of Art with special guests of honor, our students and their families!  We showcased all of the hard work that our artists have been doing over the past two months, including pottery, paintings, portraits, watershed models, dioramas, and more.   

For the featured pieces, we asked each student to think about a “BIG IDEA” --a message, feeling, or thought -- that they would like to express through their art work. Students designed canvases and incorporated lines, colors, shapes, patterns and textures to best represent their ideas.The entire Dogpatch school family got a chance to celebrate learning and toast our students together in a magical evening of art, food, and fancy attire.

Check out photos from the event below!

 

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Topics: Dogpatch Classroom, Photos, Community

Portfolio Day at AltSchool Fort Mason: Discovering Systems

Posted by Katie Gibbons

Apr 28, 2016 12:22:09 PM

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The students and teachers at AltSchool Fort Mason celebrated their work this trimester with a Portfolio Day. Students presented their deep-dive projects to parents and teachers, sharing their insights and receiving feedback.

Combining different skills and areas of study is the key to project-based learning at AltSchool. This trimester we continued our site-wide study of systems with a focus on places, as a way to further investigate how and why this concept is so important to our humanity and development. The students were provoked, inspired, and challenged to dig deeper into these concepts and express what they understand about them. They used these concepts to delve into science, history, engineering, mathematics, persuasive writing, altruism, communication, and collaboration.

Students in various grades studied the world at different historical points: from Ancient Egypt to the feudal system in the Middle Ages, and from present day problem-solving for world peace to tracing the evolution of systems in civilizations throughout time.

 

Lower Elementary 1: From Hunter-Gatherer Communities to Ancient City Life

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This trimester, one Lower Elementary class studied how systems intersect with places. To bridge their previous study on professions, the class continued to study communities, but this time from an anthropological point of view. Their essential question centered around how communities move from primitive to developed. Starting with the dawn of human culture, the class spent time investigating what life was like for hunter-gatherers, before moving on to discover the rich and organized world of Ancient Egypt.

 

Lower Elementary 2: Feudal System and Medieval Times

To begin this arc, the second Lower Elementary class turned their dilapidated garden plot on the Fort Mason hill into a thriving ecosystem, capable of producing crops, to study the lives of farmers in feudal societies.

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Shelter and architecture, agriculture and food gathering, trade and commerce, civics and politics, and faith and religion were explored each week in longer project-based deep dive sessions. Activities such as castle building, party planning, catapult constructing, sewing, pretzel making, manuscript writing, and chivalrous sword practice all stirred the imagination of the class to better understand this time period and societal system. To add even more artistic experiences, the class partnered with Little Opera to write and present their own songs reflecting their understanding of feudal system roles.


Upper Elementary: Systems of Peacemaking and Game Design

This trimester, the Upper Elementary classroom explored systems of place by seeking answers to the question “What does it mean to be a peacemaker?” and studied different Nobel Peace Prize winners including Malala Yousafzai, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.

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In the middle of the trimester, students participated in the World Peace Game, a political science simulation in which students fill the roles of government leaders, the World Bank, arms dealers, and the United Nations. During the game they worked together to solve several world crises through negotiation. At the end of the trimester, teachers combined the students’ social justice learnings and their love of game design into one project. The students designed board and video game hybrids that aim to promote peace.


Middle School: Ancient and Modern Systems

The Middle School students explored the many systems of a contemporary city through the lens of ancient systems -the Roman Latrines, Greek and Roman Aqueducts, Mayan Number System and Hieroglyphs, Indian Stepwells, Mesopotamian Agriculture, Chinese Gas and Water Pipelines, Iran’s Baghdad Battery, Asian Paper Making, and Ancient Inca Terraced Farming. Students built a working model and a presentation detailing their depth of understanding and presented their models and research findings.

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Towards the end of the trimester, each student selected a modern system that they have experienced problems with, including inequality and gender bias, and brainstormed a solution to impact the evolution of their system. They pitched their solutions to parents in the SHARK TANK. Parents gave them feedback, suggestions, ideas or contacts to help them change this system. Students are currently working on real, actionable solutions to change their worlds. Next trimester they will present these solutions at an official TEDx event at AltSchool Fort Mason, inspired by TED Talks and the concept of ‘ideas worth sharing’.

School-wide projects like this are made possible by our amazing educators who are empowered by AltSchool’s commitment to project-based learning. Our educators can guide and direct students to create projects they are passionate about and tie their learning back to core skills like reading, writing, and math.  

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Topics: AltSchool Fort Mason, Project-Based Learning

The AltSchool Student Perspective

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Apr 7, 2016 10:22:37 AM

Why is personalization important? Why do we focus on project-based learning? And most importantly, how do we prepare our students for their future?

In this video, students talk about their experiences at AltSchool, the differences between AltSchool and other schools, how personalization works for them, and their relationship with their teachers. Watch below!

 Interested in learning more? Attend an Open House.

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Topics: Videos, Community

Our World is What We Make It

Posted by Katie Gibbons

Mar 29, 2016 11:29:33 AM

The Maker Movement originates out of the belief that everyone is a maker and our world is what we make it. At AltSchool, we promote the maker mindset by encouraging our students to reimagine and recycle objects to create new designs, and thereby inspire innovation. One of the exciting ways we practice making is at the annual AltSchool Family Maker Day where educators, engineers, local tinkering experts, and parent volunteers come together to provide interactive exhibits for students and their families across our school network to experience the joys and challenges of innovation.  

Here are some highlights from this year’s community event:

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Spanish Immersion at AltSchool

Posted by Sophia Espinoza

Mar 23, 2016 9:33:01 AM

Many world language programs rely on textbooks and learning vocabulary and grammar chapter by chapter. That’s not how we do things here at AltSchool. Through engaging projects and by building social-emotional strength, our students learn to articulate themselves and the world around them through the Spanish language. Our hands-on, immersive approach makes learning Spanish fun.

Watch to learn more about our inaugural Spanish Immersion class

An immersive language environment
¡Bienvenidos a nuestra clase de español!

As you walk around our classroom, you’ll see posters, books, and the daily schedule all in Spanish. That’s because 90% of the day is in Spanish, while 10% is in English. We create a rich, immersive environment that’s not just about teaching isolated vocabulary. Through hands-on projects, children connect Spanish vocabulary to its real world application. In our school, we’re not learning Spanish, we’re learning in Spanish.


Community Meetings
Every day starts and ends with a community circle, where we share how we’re feeling, what we’ve accomplished, and what our favorite part of the day was. We also have weekly community meetings where we discuss topics such as mindfulness and empathy. These are opportunities to learn social-emotional skills and express appreciation for friends and the community. Social-emotional learning is core to our approach, and regular class reflections help students check in with their emotions and feelings, and express them to teachers and the class.

 

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A personalized approach to language acquisition
Children have autonomy in our classes to study topics they find fascinating. This builds intrinsic motivation, as students can’t wait to learn the vocabulary of their favorite topic, whether that’s about animals, sports cars, or a particular musician.

To reinforce their independence, every Friday students have “choice time,” where they can choose a core skill they’d like to practice that is part of their personal growth plan. This could be reading a book, practicing math, or writing. Teachers have curated specific activities for each students, but it is up to students as to which they’d like to tackle first — which gives them agency in their own learning journey.

 

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Going into the community: project-based learning
This year, students are studying the elements of our local community. Students divided themselves into three groups based on what they wanted to study: the people, flora and fauna, and structures of Dogpatch. For the people group, students learned skills to interview local shop owners and community workers. For their final project they created videos of their conversations, as well as made models of the places where they conducted the interviews. The flora and fauna group studied the plants and animals in our parks, which include giant sequoias and lots of dogs! They interviewed dog owners to gather information on the dogs and studied the neighborhood environment with a local ecologist. For their final projects they created a museum with hands-on exhibits and infographics based on the data they collected. The structures group learned about buildings, architecture, and vehicles in our neighborhoods. They were fascinated by the different-sized wheels on vehicles and decided to measure the circumferences of 5 different vehicle wheels. For their final project they created a xylophone in which the unique bar sounds corresponded to the different-sized wheels; the bigger the wheel, the deeper the sound. They then composed songs to emulate the sounds of our neighborhood.

 

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Field trips and studies of cultures around the world
From the Museum of African Diaspora to Mexican bakeries and the murals in the Mission, our class explores diverse cultures and communities throughout our city. During the fall and winter months we study international “celebrations of light,” like Dia de los Muertos, Hanukkah and Diwali. We learn about unique cultures’ traditions and compare and contrast them to our own. Through these experiences, students value the diversity and arts of different vibrant cultures.

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Topics: Dogpatch Classroom, Spanish Language