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March 17, 2016

A Look Inside AltSchool Fort Mason

I recently asked one of our 11-year-old students what he likes most about AltSchool. After a long pause, he answered, “When I walked in on my first day of school, I just felt free. I feel that I have the freedom to study what I want and how I want.” This same student is now a fifth grader who is studying eighth and ninth grade math, and has a burgeoning interest in quantum mechanics.

School should be a place where students are their best selves. At AltSchool Fort Mason, our community of teachers work hard to create an agile learning environment that supports the individuality of each student.

I invite you to take a virtual tour of our school and see this environment for yourself. 

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Educating the Whole Child: AltSchool’s “Fight Song”

Feelings like “I can’t do this,” or “I’m just not good at math,” can impact the way kids view themselves and their work. It even affects their academic and later, work performance. That’s why we focus on helping students develop healthy self-talk and growth mindsets. Students develop social-emotional skills like grit and resilience through every academic activity, whether that’s a challenging math assignment or a project that involves multiple steps. To inspire healthy mindsets, our teachers wrote our own school fight song. But instead of focusing on defeating our sports rivals, it’s a song that fosters inner strength, singing along with failure, and persevering through challenges.  

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A Personalized Periodic Table of Elements

One of our middle schoolers chose to build a model of uranium. She chose this element because, “I wanted a challenge, and I find the concept of decay in radioactive elements fascinating.”

This year our middle school class studied the periodic table with a personalized twist. To learn about the anatomy of an atom, each student chose an element that interested them most. They then researched it, identifying who discovered it and when, as well as the scientific implications of that discovery. After writing a report, they built a 3D model of their own element, which now hang from the ceiling. The process was interdisciplinary—involving research, synthesis, writing, and 3D modeling.

Wolves in Our Town? A Political and Environmental Debate

Our Upper Elementary students created a fictional town called Howlerville to learn about wolf populations, local government, and ecosystems. After weeks of research, the class held a heated city council meeting where students played the parts of different stakeholders, from hunters associations to environmentalists to the Department of Tourism. The simulation was a culmination of a month-long project on the study of wolves in Yellowstone, where students interviewed experts from the National Park Service and researched wildlife ecosystems in the U.S.

On the day of the council meeting, the students took their roles seriously and they listened to everyone’s arguments (in front on an audience that included their parents). Together, they came up with a management plan that took each perspective into consideration. Through the process, students developed empathy, learned about different perspectives, and realized sometimes there aren’t right and wrong answers—just solutions and compromises.

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Our Own Community Garden

Our Lower Elementary students are studying food—where it is grown and how it arrives to us. We explored this topic through multiple activities, from going on a field trip to Safeway to see their storage systems, to building prototypes of food containers. The class now has their own community garden, where students are removing weed and crabgrass, reframing the plot, adding organic soil, and planting their own garden. This feeds into our hands-on study of biology, plant life, and edible gardening.

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Outdoor Exploration and Physical Education

With the Golden Gate Bridge as our backdrop, we have amazing outdoor spaces to explore in Fort Mason. Our students get outside every day to to explore the neighborhood, move their bodies, and develop team sport skills. We use the beautiful Marina Triangle, Fort Mason Green, and Moscone Field as our playground.

Community Meeting Every Friday

As educators, we believe the students of all grades at Fort Mason can and should learn from each other. We foster inter-class connections and collaborations. Older students mentor younger ones through reading groups or even teaching opportunities, which empower them to demonstrate what they know.

To further cultivate our community, every Friday we come together as a school for a site meeting, where we discuss school events and updates. Students take ownership over their community and bring their ideas, passions, and creativity to form the environment around them.

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