Our unique Connections Class in grades 1-3 is a great example of how, starting at a young age, students bridge their content-rich studies with deep critical thinking skills, putting what they learn to the test in a scenario-based project learning block. One of the goals of Connections, which meets once a week for 85 minutes, is to literally “connect” the curriculum, showing how each subject relates to the other, even if it doesn’t seem to do so on the surface.
Every year, new BASIS.ed teachers descend upon the desert for an intense, week-long training session designed to be the first stop on their journey towards becoming BASIS Independent classroom champions. In the second part of this two-part series, Co-Founder Olga Block shares her thoughts on teacher training.
On April 20, 2015, the BASIS.ed network celebrated what we consider to be one of the most salient validations of our academic programs we’ve been honored with as a community to date: The Washington Post’s 2015 Ranking of America’s Most Challenging High Schools featured BASIS.ed schools prominently at the top:
A couple of days ago, the New York Times published an article about parent teacher conferences in New York City. These conferences, which one interviewed parent describes as akin to the "running of the bulls" in Pamplona, are worth really considering. Is the way most schools hold these conferences in the best interests of all involved? Here's the BASIS Independent take below:
BASIS Independent Schools do not hold formal Parent /Teacher Conference days. This practice can surprise some parents. What parent does not want the opportunity to talk with their child’s teachers about their progress, challenges and victories? What teacher does not want to reassure parents that their children are in safe hands?
It seems so simple: set aside a day and let the adults talk. But there, embedded in that brief injunction, lie the two major problems with Parent / Teacher Conference days.
The nightmare of the schedule.
I think of these formal days as a leftover from an era of one-size-fits-all education in which schools can seem to function like mid-twentieth century factories: “Dear Parent…you want to talk with your child’s teacher? You are welcome of course, but it must be on this day, at this time, and you will have 7 minutes before the production line moves to the next parent. The production line is sacrosanct and never stops.”
As for the teacher, consider that which is asked of them: “Dear colleagues, you will prepare to speak to all of your parents from morning to night about their children. We have provided breaks in your day, but of course parents will be late and conversations will run over the allotted 7 minutes, so bring some Kind Bars. Do not raise any genuinely troublesome or puzzling issues about a kid, as they require time. You have 7 minutes. Make it work.”
Behind the apparent openness of the Parent / Teacher Conference day is a subtle message from school to parent: “This is the deal: we hold this day for you and it is YOUR DAY! We all hate it as we are fried by lunch, which we never get, and there are hours more to go before we sleep. For the rest of the year try not to bother us too much as we are all very busy.”
During Prospective Parent Information Sessions, we are often confronted with a variety of questions that range from the more operational “easy to answer” questions like class size to those philosophical questions that give us pause, that stick in the back of our minds long after we’ve said goodbye to the last lingering few guests.
The middle school science curriculum at BASIS Independent Brooklyn is expansive, breaking down the sciences into the core disciplines of chemistry, physics, and biology, each taken 3 times per week throughout the year. In biology, students just wrapped up a unit on functions and parts of cells, a fairly complex topic. Dr. Angela Hahn, Subject Expert Teacher for 6th, 7th and 8th grade biology and chemistry, works daily to break down complex subjects not typically seen until high school in American schools (or even college) to make them comprehensible to the 12 year old mind, finding key access points along the way to connect with students.
Dr. Hahn is, as all BASIS Independent teachers are, a firm believer that if a student really ‘knows’ something and they can teach it to someone else, in their own words, then they have mastered it. This simple concept is the genesis of what came to be an experiment in what it means to be a student – and a teacher – for our 7th graders.
Because of the reputation of our program and the national results and international recognition we have attained, it is only natural that families are curious for our take on balancing high expectations and support at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. Read on for my take below:
Schools with very high academic expectations can easily become dystopian, highly engineered obstacle courses that lay waste to childhood. “Childhood” can signify quite different meanings to us all depending upon culture and personal experience. For me, when I think about “childhood,” I do not dwell too long on notions of innocence, but more on a hungry openness to new experiences and a capacity to feel and think with an intensity that weakens with the passing of the years.
One of my favorite statements about learning was made by the Russian writer, Alexander Herzen: “We think the purpose of a child is to grow up because it does grow up. But its purpose is to play, to enjoy itself, to be a child. If we merely look at the end of the process, the purpose of life is death.”
Herzen is invoking here a conception of play as a profoundly empowering human activity, and warning us that if we do not learn the joy and force of such play as children, our adult lives will be the less for it. Play, not as distraction from more important tasks, but as an activity that involves a total engagement in the complexity and revelations of the moment, a mind and an imagination supremely preoccupied by the invention at hand.
There are a myriad of opinions and schools of thought on assessing student learning. It's one of the topics that comes up most often when we meet with families and community members to share more about our STEM-focused, liberal arts program. Here's our take.
Whenever a parent meets their child’s teacher, whether during the formality of a parent-teacher conference or the random chat in the local park on a Sunday afternoon, the first question is always, “How is my child doing?” This is entirely as it should be. Parents care. And so do master/mistress teachers. They too ask this question day-by-day, sometimes minute-by-minute, about all the children in their classes.
Inspired by the blissful feeling of uncovering connections, our blog Eureka! Brooklyn is about sharing moments that capture the essence of what it is to be a BASIS Independent student, teacher, administrator, or family.