Bullis Charter School officials last week hosted 19 representatives from the Singapore Ministry of Education at the Bullis Center for Innovation on the Blach Intermediate School campus.
The ministry officials visited the Bay Area to learn about emerging innovations in education technology and to view best practices in implementing them.
The visiting delegation received a tour of ongoing activities at the campus, including the school’s FabLab and MakerSpace.
The FabLab, geared toward upper-grade students, houses technologies that teachers integrate into students’ project-based learning units. The visitors watched fifth-graders use 3-D printed materials to construct and design a prosthetic hand.
The MakerSpace, aimed at students in the lower grades, promotes design and assists students in designing prototypes for solutions to real-world problems. Fourth-graders used the space to create prototype solutions to protect the leatherback turtle at different life stages.
The Singapore ministry officials observed Bullis Charter School teachers as they integrated all aspects of the curriculum into student projects. Fifth-grade teacher Jessica Morgan explained how students are currently learning about the human body and its functions.
While studying the human body, students learn geometry via scales and measurements of the prosthetic hand project; technology via the 3-D design program and printer used to develop parts of the prosthetic hand; art via sculpting a clay structure with wires that imitate muscle action in the body; and physical education as they learn to tone different muscle groups and explore how the muscles work together.
The guests viewed an eighth-grade class creating a school of the future during an Intersession, a three-week intensive unit outside of the regular day-to-day curriculum, a major part of the junior-high program at Bullis Charter School.
The school of the future project was part of a national competition for which students had to meet a number of criteria, including enhancing the school’s green efforts and making it an engaging place to learn. As part of the Intersession, professional architects and interior designers discussed the requirements with students, and the class visited a green home. The students used SketchUp, 3-D modeling software, a laser cutter and a 3-D printer to assemble their schools of the future.
Tweaking the Blach campus
Because the Los Altos School District is asking Bullis Charter School to adhere to the rules outlined in its Facilities Use Agreement, the charter school has had to tweak how its uses space on the Blach campus.
Alison Schwartzbaum, the Bullis Charter School assistant principal who oversees the Bullis Center for Innovation, said the center’s program originally was designed to house students for three-week periods. The school split the upper and lower grades so that older students could use the FabLab while the younger students used the MakerSpace for their various project-based learning units.
The charter school’s communications director, Emily Nelson, said the rotations on the Blach campus were assigned after the school community determined that the design of the K-8 integrated program was non-negotiable. She added that parents and teachers wanted to make the Blach campus a site everyone could experience, not a permanent separation from the main charter school campus at Egan Junior High.
The district’s Facilities Use Agreement prescribes that kindergarten through third-grade students should not use the Blach facilities and places enrollment caps on both campuses.
In an effort to comply with the agreement but still maintain the charter school’s original vision for the program this year, Schwartzbaum said the MakerSpace site would relocate to the charter school’s space at Egan. It will not have a designated classroom there but will move from room to room as upper grades rotate onto the Blach campus.
“It’s rough trying to do MakerSpace on a cart,” Schwartzbaum said. “So it’s a bummer, but we are making it work.”
Because lower grades will no longer be using the Blach campus, fourth- through eighth-graders will have more time there than originally scheduled.
Schwarzbaum said the schedule, still under development, is “difficult,” especially given the enrollment caps.