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April 28, 2016

Portfolio Day at AltSchool Fort Mason: Discovering Systems

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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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