Volunteers Help Seniors With Tech Tools

More than 60 local seniors improved their abilities to use personal computing devices at “Tech Day for Older Adults” at the Los Altos Senior Center May 17.

The free service project was co-hosted by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s David Druker Center for Health Systems Innovation linkAges TimeBank and the Los Altos Recreation Department. Partners included the Egan Junior High School PTA, the Bullis Charter School Booster Club, the Center for Age Friendly Excellence and the Stanford Alumni Association.

An estimated 80 volunteers taught seniors how to chat with friends and family via Skype and FaceTime; create a Facebook account; use laptops, tablets and smartphones; and participate in the linkAges TimeBank, a free service exchange network for all ages.

The event included residents of a range of ages, from teens to 80s.

“This is an amazing showcase of how technology is cementing the generations,” said Janet Corrigan, a Stanford alumna and attorney with Intel Corp. “Each generation has something to offer.”

Egan Junior High and Bullis Charter School students appreciated the interaction with seniors.

“At first, I was a little shy working with someone I didn’t know,” said Bullis Charter School sixth-grader Sebastian Vargas. “But I enjoyed teaching (a senior) how to FaceTime with his grandson on the East Coast. It was also cool to hear about what life was like when he was a kid.”

Kim Albright, Egan PTA president, praised the partnerships formed to host the event.

“We are glad to partner with the Bullis Boosters Club and linkAges TimeBank to facilitate this unique opportunity to serve and interact with a different generation of adults … right here in our own community,” she said.

A team from the Druker Center provided information on the components of linkAges, a multigenerational network that supports aging in the community. Members of the linkAges TimeBank were on hand to put into practice their community-building skills with seniors.

Alan Baker helped a senior optimize network connectivity and performed a general computer tuneup.

“TimeBanking is a great community builder in places where you didn’t know there was a community,” he said.

According to organizers, “Tech Day for Older Adults” embodied the concept of linkAges – linking ages for intergenerational teaching, learning and building community.

“These multigenerational exchanges and networks help to build a better future and change lives,” said Los Altos resident Anabel Pelham, professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University and founding director of the Center for Age-Friendly Excellence.

Developing Tomorrow’s Talent

People today generally agree that the goal of education is to convey knowledge. But if all the world’s knowledge is instantaneously available online via a mobile device, how does that affect what we need to teach in schools and through other educational channels?

Education is becoming less about acquiring knowledge and more about how to analyze, evaluate, validate and use the unlimited information that is available to us. We will need to teach more critical thinking, collaboration and social skills. Perhaps we will not teach answers, but how to ask the right questions.

Technology’s effect on education over the past decade has been transformative. As the Internet of Everything gains traction, that effect will continue to expand. The networked connections among people, processes, data and things will change not only how and where education is delivered, but will also prompt educators to reconsider what students need to learn, and why. As technology and networking become increasingly critical to businesses of all types across all industries, there is growing demand for individuals with specialized technology skills.

As an example, the top 10 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004 (e.g.: Social Media/Online Manager, Sustainability Manager, SEO Optimization Specialist, etc.). These changes mean that students are currently learning information and processes that may well be outdated by the time they enter the workforce. How can the education and private sectors prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist?

Looking into innovative methods for advancing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, Los Altos’ Bullis Charter School came to my attention. Bullis is helping students build an interest and comfort level with technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration through personalized education and focused learning goals for every K-8 student. The curriculum is centered on building the critical skills of problem solving, creativity and critical thinking.

Teachers at Bullis employ project-based learning assignments that marry instruction with hands-on learning and individual, as well as team, efforts to create an immersive and whole-brain experience that will serve these students well as they face an uncertain, ever-changing technology landscape. This early and steady exposure to STEAM subjects encourages more students to consider careers in these critical fields.

Bullis Charter School’s individualized, innovative approach to learning represents one way in which current educational standards must be transformed in order to meet the challenges of filling technology jobs. Below is a video of my conversations with Bullis’ principal Wanny Hersey, as well as teachers and students — watch and let us know your thoughts on transforming educational content and methodologies.

BCS Choir Earns ‘Superior’ At Festival

Bullis Charter School choir students participated in the annual California Music Educators Association festival earlier this month, receiving “Unanimous Superior” rankings – the highest score possible.

Each of the school’s five choirs, spanning grades 1-8, performed three pieces, adjudicated by three different judges. The choirs, which included beginning and intermediate levels, earned the highest rankings possible from each judge.

Sonore (comprising students in grades 4-6) and Mattiniere (grades 7 and 8), the intermediate-level groups, were tested on their sight-reading abilities. The choirs had to sing a two- to three-part song they had never seen before. Both choruses garnered “Superior” grades.

BCS Nominated for Blue Ribbon Designation

The California Department of Education recently nominated Bullis Charter School for National Blue Ribbon School distinction, recognition bestowed on only 35 of the nearly 11,000 schools in the state.

The nomination comes as the charter school celebrates its 10th anniversary. Since its founding a decade ago, the school has consistently ranked as the highest-performing public school in Los Altos, and among the top three elementary charter schools in the state.

“This nomination is a tremendous honor for our school, and it validates the strength of our programs, the dedication of our educators and the tireless support of our parent community,” said Wanny Hersey, superintendent/principal of Bullis Charter School. “For 10 years, our mission has been to provide a well-rounded education for every student who walks through our door – one that is tailored to meet individual academic needs while also inspiring passions and instilling a life-long love of learning. This nomination reaffirms our commitment to showing what is possible in public education.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon program recognizes schools – public and private elementary, middle and high schools – annually in an ongoing effort to illuminate best practices in education across the country. If Bullis Charter School receives the award, it will join the nearly 7,000 other school organizations given National Blue Ribbon status since the program’s inception more than 30 years ago.

Bullis Charter School was recognized as a California Distinguished School in 2008 and is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Bullis Charter Eighth-Graders Display Their Architectural Skills

Eighth-grade students at Bullis Charter School presented 3-D architectural designs to a panel of judges Jan. 31 for the nationwide 2014 School of the Future Design Competition.

The Council of Educational Facility Planners International, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Institute of Architects and more than 20 additional organizations co-sponsor the annual competition, open to middle schoolers.

Bullis Charter School students used the Design Thinking process and technologies available in the the school’s FabLab to design environmentally responsive school sites during their Architectural Design and Engineering intersession, part of the core curriculum at the charter school.

Roxanne Lanzot, an eighth-grade science and math teacher with a background in architecture, led the project.

“The entire process mirrored what happens in the architecture and design industry,” she said. “From developing a program of requirements to designing on Google SketchUp to printing building models on the laser cutter, students worked in real dimensions and had to scale each piece before printing.”

Lanzot added that students learned a “tremendous amount” about sustainable structures and healthy buildings, which began with data collection and observation at their current school site.

Students were tasked with designing a school or classroom that facilitates a high-performance learning environment, incorporates sustainable features, engages the community and is responsive to the environment. The school models included features such as skyways instead of traditional walking paths, green roofs, organic gardens, community facilities (pools, dance studios, technology labs and art rooms), geothermal heating, quartzite walls, solar-panel shades and a geodesic dome structure.

The panel of judges included Torrey Wolff, campus space planner at Stanford University, and Suett Wong, interior designer at GoGo Creations. All the student entrants made presentations before the panel selected the design that will continue to the regional round of the competition.

“Every student had a phenomenal beginning understanding of the different environmentally responsive design options,” Wolff said. “It was clear to me that the students realized the importance of supporting the larger environment they live in. Their school designs showed that these students were really thinking about how an institution relates to its broader community, a major factor in any architecture and design project.”

Wong said she was “amazed” at the amount of in-depth learning students gained from the project in a short amount of time.

“For these young students to take this project from an idea to a scale model was really impressive,” she said. “I am so proud of everything they did.”

Full STEAM Ahead: BCS Program Integrates Art and Science Disciplines

Bullis Charter School’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) initiative, a staple at the 10-year-old school, integrates art into the sciences.

“Our art specialist has worked closely across grade levels and across disciplines to design integrated units of study since he began working here nine years ago,” said Superintendent/Principal Wanny Hersey.

This year, according to Hersey, the charter school has taken STEAM to a new level with the addition of the FabLab and MakerSpace, which offer all students access to the latest technologies and the opportunity to learn from experts in their fields.

On the school’s second site – the Bullis Center for Innovation – Hersey and her staff have implemented a STEAM program designed to support and enhance the traditional grade-level curriculum.

In the sixth grade, for example, students studied early man in social studies, which laid the groundwork for their first design-thinking challenge of the year – creating a topographical map that shows the ideal setting for survival in prehistoric times. After much collaboration among grade-level teachers, the art specialist and the FabLab director, students applied their historical knowledge using their newly acquired 3-D rendering software skills to create prototypes designed to scale by incorporating math standards in the planning stages.

The exploration of early man continued in art, where students studied and re-created cave paintings and stone art, with a goal to deepen their understanding of the historical period.

After completing the design challenge, students wrote a historical fiction narrative about early man.

Sixth-grade teacher Dan Gross said the results impressed him.

“I was blown away by how well the students mastered the content,” he said. “Paper and pencil learning can only go so deep, but this design challenge allowed all students to be engaged in their own learning, and they got to do that in a way that prepares them for life in the 21st century.”

Charter School Teacher Creates National Hands of Hope for Sandy Hook Lesson

To commemorate the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Bullis Charter School teacher Jessica Lura developed a lesson for students to enable discussion of the tragedy.

Lura serves on the board of teachers for UClass.org, a website that specializes in sharing Common Core lesson plans across the Internet. Because she has taught first- through eighth-graders, UClass leaders asked her to design a lesson appropriate for a range of age groups.

“It is such a difficult subject to talk about because it is a balance between wanting to honor what happened without freaking out the students,” Lura said.

The lesson, intended for fourth-graders and up, addresses the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook in Newton, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. The lesson includes a short film clip of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) addressing Congress on gun violence.

Then the conversation shifts to what students can do.

“I think it’s really important for students to feel like they have some ownership over the tragedies, because otherwise they feel helpless,” Lura said. “I really wanted to make sure my students came out of this saying, ‘It’s a tragedy, but we really want to move forward’ and get something out of it.”

After investigating other responses to the Sandy Hook shootings, Lura introduced Hands of Hope for Sandy Hook, a project that includes students making hand-shaped cutouts with their hopes for the future regarding the control of violence in the U.S. written on them.

“The hands are a visual symbol that says (to the victims of the tragedy), ‘We are with you, we sympathize and we are going to do something to change it,’” Lura said.

Each student wrote what was most important to him or her, such as: “I hope for a safer future.” “I hope people who are mentally ill receive the help they need.” “I hope for stricter gun laws.” “I hope for a safer United States,” etc.

Agents of change

“Unfortunately, school violence is a part of our lives today, and it’s really important for students to know that they can be agents of change,” Lura said. “It’s important for them to know how to be smart about gun violence and being smart about being a citizen today – part of that includes hard discussions about what is happening and what are we going to do to change it.”

An extension for older students includes looking at ways students can effect change regarding violence locally.

Bullis Charter School fourth- through eighth-graders participated in creating Hands of Hope, which has spread across the U.S. The goal was to get at least 5,000 Hands of Hope created by the recent anniversary of the tragedy.

Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan, a kindergartner who died at Sandy Hook last year, has viewed the messages students submitted through the UClass website.

“Nearly one year after my 6-year-old son Dylan and 19 of his classmates lost their lives, it is important for students not only to remember the tragedy that occurred in Newtown that day, but also to express their hopes for safer schools and communities,” said Hockley, founding member of Sandy Hook Promise. “Our students deserve to learn and grow in an environment free of the threats that many American children sadly face.”

Giffords, a victim of gun violence herself, also has viewed the students’ messages.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage and new ideas,” Giffords said. “We are proud to bring students together to honor the lives lost in the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and encourage them to envision an America that is both free and safe.”

To view the full lesson, visit uclass.org/handsofhope.

Local Students Lead Anti-Gun Violence Discussion

Since the Newtown shooting, a Bay Area school has led the way in online discussions on gun violence and what students can do to stop it.

“I hope that people with mental health issues will be given professional help instead of guns,” one girl said.

“I hope the government will create better background checks for new gun owners,” said another student.

Their thoughts become words and those words will hopefully turn into action. The 8th-graders at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos created hand cut-outs and wrote messages starting with “I hope.”

When done, they uploaded the pictures of their hand-messages onto a website called uclass.org, where teachers can access any kind of lesson. One of the featured online lessons is called “Hands of Hope.”

“They really wanted to figure out a way to help teachers teach about Sandy Hook. Events like these are very difficult to teach about,” teacher Jessica Lura said.

Lura, a teacher at Bullis, co-wrote the lesson with former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — herself a victim of gun violence — and Nicole Hockley, a parent whose son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook.

Lura opens up the topic of gun violence for discussion with her students and other teachers around the nation who log on to the website follow her lead.

Hannah Phelps, a student, says it’s raising awareness. “So a lot more people are aware of what’s happening and people can reach out to each other and help each other in times like this, when people aren’t really sure what’s happening,” she said.

“I hope that people of all races, sexual orientations, and ages will choose to come together instead of bullying each other,” said student Tommy Gomez, reading his message.

“I think that most people know about it but they just don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

“I’m hoping this is a starting point for more discussion about what it means to be safe in schools today. How do we make sure we’re safe and how do we integrate those conversations into schools?” Lura said.

All 4th-graders through 8th-graders at Bullis have already completed the “Hands of Hope” lesson.

View a the broadcast video at this link.

Local Students Participating in ‘Hour of Code’

Students at Los Altos School District schools and Bullis Charter School are participating in the  nationwide “Hour of Code” event this week, an effort recruit millions of students across the country to try computer programming for one hour.

AT LASD, students as young as kindergarten are participating, “During this week every LASD student will be given opportunities to engage in activities that will teach them to code… Los Altos School District, thanks to funding from LAEF, is fortunate enough to be in the 10% of U.S. Schools that are offering every student the opportunity to learn computational thinking through the STEM and CSTEM program.”

BCS Communications Director Emily Nelson says this initiative builds on the work already being done at BCS,  “computer science has been a part of the fabric of our school since the beginning through our Project Based Learning units, co and extra curricular classes, and core instruction.

“We are very proud to have our classes participate in this exciting event this week!”


What is the Hour of Code?

• Fun in the computer lab. Students will play and experiment with computer science. Tutorials will feature lectures from Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, and artwork from the popular games Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. No experience needed!

• When will students participate? After school during the week of December 9-13 in ROOM 401.


Why Computer Science? 

• Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. Basic programming activ­ities help nurture creativity and problem solving skills. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any future career path.

• Computer programming jobs are growing 3 times faster than students entering the field. Yet fewer schools teach computer science than 10 years ago. 90% of K-12 schools in the United States don’t teach it at all.


Who is behind this campaign?

• Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the College Board, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and over 100 others, are uniting to back the Hour of Code campaign. The Computing in the Core Coalition and Code.org are organizing CSEdWeek 2013. The annual CSEdWeek celebrates the  birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906).

BCS Parents Host Camp for Students In Need

Thirty second- and third-graders who wouldn’t typically have the opportunity to attend a summer camp participated last week in an enrichment program hosted by a group of Bullis Charter School parents.

The students, English-Language Learning and Free and Reduced Lunch students from the Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts, attended the tuition-free Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp.

The charter school parents who founded the camp collaborated with teachers from Castro School in Mountain View and Los Altos School District parents to reach the students they wished to serve.

“We wanted to provide kids a little bit of a refresher before schools started, especially the kids who really don’t have access to a school experience,” said Grace Yang, a charter school parent who helped manage the camp.

Charter school parents oversaw the Summer Bridge Camp, and teachers from the charter school and Castro taught the classes. Bullis Charter School junior-highers volunteered as counselors in training. The organizers rented classrooms from the Los Altos School District.

It’s not affiliated in any way with the district or Bullis Charter School, Yang said of the camp.

“I think the beautiful thing is we have vendors from the town supporting us, we have LASD parents who love it and said, ‘Let me help you,’” she said.

The 7- and 8-year-old campers spent each morning focusing on grade-level math skills, English language arts and reading.

In the afternoons, the campers participated in hands-on science projects to cultivate interest in science and math. The students disassembled disk drives and watched in real time how a drive physically conducts a memory search. They built and launched homemade duct-tape rockets and constructed electronic circuits from lemons and wires.

The final day of the camp culminated in three Stanford University electrical engineering graduate students conducting experiments using polymers, structural matter and clocks.

“There is such a need for programs like this in our area,” said Grace Chavez, a teacher at Castro and instructor at the camp. “It is crucial that we reinforce grade-level concepts in English throughout the summer – many of our students speak primarily Spanish at home during the summer. I also know firsthand that just one inspirational science project or experience can spark a lifelong pursuit of science or math.”

The accredited teachers volunteered their time to develop the curriculum and teach at the weeklong camp. Local merchants donated lunches and supplies, including Lulu’s, The Boardwalk, Spot Pizza, The Counter, Whole Foods and Linden Tree Books. Donations from Bullis Charter School parents covered the cost of materials and the rental of two Bullis Charter School classrooms from the Los Altos School District.

Yang said she was pleased to see so many people from the community coming together to contribute.

“I thought this camp would be a great way to get parents from both sides working together,” she said. “It’s been great because LASD parents have been very helpful and supportive.”

For more information, visit bullisboosterscamp.org.