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MS Head's Blog

Mr. O in his 2nd floor office on a dress-down day

In the Middle of It All

Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School

Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.

 

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What a Difference an Audience Makes

Over the last month I  — and probably most of you — have seen Bancroft’s Learning Lab Method (LLM) in action in our Middle School. Whether it was sixth graders sharing their work at our Blackstone Valley Expo, seventh graders presenting their data at Science Fair night, or eighth graders describing their country research and literary connections during World Fair, we’ve been exposed to some of LLM’s most powerful teaching and learning characteristics — student voice and choice, and an authentic audience.

An evening full of varied presentations and interesting pursuits is infinitely more compelling than what would result from a limited range of pre-packaged topics. When students have a say in choosing which interests they pursue, how they work, and what they create, their level of engagement necessarily increases. With appropriate guidance and a strong foundation of skills, a degree of freedom takes our students on journeys of curiosity that have the potential to ignite passions that can impact and shape their future pursuits and even, perhaps, their careers.

Another of the most important pieces of these successful projects was you. And no, it wasn’t the behind-the-scenes support you offered, whether in the form of a last-minute supply run or taste-testing. Your support, both tangible and moral, was a key ingredient in these varied, student-driven projects. The most important thing you did was show up and be part of the audience.

A true and authentic audience is what separates a practice from a game. It's what differentiates a dress rehearsal from opening night. And in the case of these academic examples, the audience was the difference-maker, turning what traditionally would have been a binary transaction between a student and a teacher into a true celebration of all the learning and hard work. The presence of the crowd raised the stakes, and the projects were even stronger.
When true curiosity drives learning, and an audience is there to see the results, everyone benefits.

Want to know more about these three major spring projects? Click here.
Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll in Learning Lab Method (LLM) on Friday May 20, 2016 at 02:34PM
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Dance Lessons — A Guest Post

This post comes to you from MS Spanish teacher Jody Stephenson.

Entering the Boone Room last Friday night, I was instantly transported to an oceanic wonderland. From the crepe paper seaweed on the walls, to the construction paper fish painstakingly drawn by hand and the fanciful touch added by the sixth graders — life-size mer-people cutouts! The following snapshots are only a few of the moments that I witnessed Friday night that speak to why I love working here.

I saw generosity, as each student who arrived early asked “Señora, what do you need me to do?”

I witnessed kindness and compassion when a seventh grader reassured a sixth grader that she needn’t be nervous at her first dance, and when another seventh grader reached out to a younger student in need, coaxing her onto the dance floor and making her smile.

I noticed leadership and risk-taking, from a sixth grader decorating an event for the first time, to a seventh grader exploring a new interest as our official photographer, to an eighth grader warmly welcoming each arriving student.

I saw acceptance and inclusion as a multi-grade card game spontaneously commenced on the lobby floor, and students who may not have known each other well laughed and strengthened connections.

I saw milestones occurring before my eyes from a sixth grader’s first slow dance, to a seventh grader’s newfound confidence, to an eighth grader’s mature reflection and awareness that this dance was a moment to remember, the first in a series of endings in these weeks leading up to graduation.

By 9:45 we had erased all traces of the dance, save for a stray strand of seaweed on the floor. But even after removing the music and decorations, the twinkling lights and the food, something so special still remains — a remarkable group of students who challenge each other to take risks, who accept each other with all of their beautiful imperfections, and who take care of each other without even being asked.

On the drive home, tired, but with my heart full, I thought to myself how incredibly privileged I am to be able to witness this every day as a part of this exceptional community. 

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll in Goodness, Kindness on Thursday May 5, 2016 at 12:24PM
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Not-So-Mini Miracles

Yesterday I received several notes from adults who accompanied our students out into the world during our community service afternoon. Seventh grade teacher Kendra McCuine passed on some thoughts and memorable moments from her students’ visit to an eldercare facility: 

“I'm so in awe of how fantastic our kids are. This could be a very intimidating situation for people their age, and they completely rose to the occasion!”

Highlights

  • Nate and Chris dancing with two of the ladies there (totally sweet)
  • Talya delighting the folks in the Alzheimer's room with her violin
  • Malea bringing home a picture that one of the folks there colored for her

I am always appreciative of notes like this. As these community service days approach, the logistics can start to override the big picture. It feels like a victory just watching Cheryl Cowley-Hollinger lasso more than a dozen amazing parent-volunteer drivers; marveling at Claire Campbell, who graciously coordinates with our many host agencies; working with Catherine Hanssen to make sure each student gets placed in one of their top choices; seeing nurse Janice Morello quietly swoop in with all the medical info and supplies we need to be healthy; and of course witnessing the tireless faculty who roll up their sleeves, rise to the challenge, step out into the world, and lead by example. Getting 150 people out the door and to the right places is a not-so-mini logistical miracle.

But then, of course, there are the stories of the deeds our kids do in the world, and suddenly I am reminded of the whole point of this work.

The snapshots shared, like the ones from Kendra, show us all why these efforts are so important and special. It’s impressive that so many folks work together to get us to our destinations. It’s more impressive to see what our kids can do for others when provided the opportunity.

Thank you to everyone involved, from the people mentioned above to the moms and dads who perform the daily miracle of getting their kids out the door in the morning. Here’s hoping your children have a wonderful, no-homework break filled with resting, running around, and reading for pleasure.

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll in Goodness on Thursday March 17, 2016 at 05:31PM
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What's Bubbling in Our Learning Lab

I was struck by how many interesting things are going on in the halls of the Middle School these days, and I thought I’d share some snapshots of the happenings. This by-no-means-exhaustive list demonstrates engaging, student-centered work that is reflective of our mission and the Learning Lab Method (LLM) approach.

  • Students in Grade 6, after learning about Eastern and Western artists including Hokusai and Durer and their varied methods of printing, as well as learning about Gutenberg's movable type printing press, are creating/carving their own woodblock prints.
  • Seventh grade English students are writing professional letters to Cecilia Galante, author of The Patron Saint of Butterflies, a novel the class recently read. They will soon Skype with the author. Additionally, students are crafting 15-second Vocabulary Videos for the New York Times vocabulary contest.
  • Our Good Reads book club recently Skyped with National Book Award winner Eliot Schrefer after reading his book Endangered about the bonobos of Nigeria.
  • After recent and impressive competition results, our Middle School MathCounts Team is in the running for a wild card slot at the state competition at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston on Saturday, March 5. Three of our seven competitors are going on to the individual competition at states.
  • Eighth graders are deep into their arts electives, which include the following course options: Ukulele, Drumming, Drawing/Painting, Bookmaking, Handbells, Tech Theatre, and Improvisation.
  • In a mash-up of their English and history studies, the Grade 7 HGP class is investigating the concept of an "ideal" society by contrasting The Giver, a dystopian novel about a controlled society, with the Framers' experiences at the Constitutional Convention. Using the ideas and principles that they learn, they will design their own ideal societies, presenting in teams to a panel of teachers and peers who will vote on the society in which they would most like to live.  
  • An eighth grade advisory recently practiced guided meditation. It’s not unheard of for students to ask for permission to go meditate.
  • French students recently participated in a proficiency-based assessment where they took on the roles of waiter and diner, communicating in the target language, sans notes.
  • After collaborating on scripts via iPads, sixth graders produced NPR-style radio broadcasts and reported "live from the battlefield" in connection with their 19th century American studies. Students also wrote reviews of classmates’ broadcasts.
  • Seventh grade science students have begun their science fair projects, but their excitement and work is not contained to their science classroom alone. A number of students are using their time in Project-Builder's Club to work on projects including: a baseball batting device, a gas collection and measuring apparatus, and a wind tunnel/airfoil testing machine.
  • In the discussion stage is a Middle/Upper cross-division plan to create an Electric Car Project.
  • Eighth graders were busy wrapping up their big mid-year assessment in English by creating portfolios of their work. You can see all the requirements here, but of particular interest may be the creative writing component for which students had five options:
    1. Choose one of the zodiac signs (Taurus, Pisces, Aquarius, etc.) and research what that sign means. Then, choose a character that could fit this zodiac sign and explain how/why.
    2. Write a eulogy (a speech given at a funeral) in honor of a character who has died. Make sure it is clear which character is giving the eulogy!
    3. Create a scene using narration and dialogue in which characters from two or more texts meet and interact with each other in some interesting way.
    4. Create a 15-20 line ‘found poem’ using lines from two or more texts. You must cite each of the lines so your readers know which texts they are from!
    5. Pretend you are the author of one of our texts, but the Bancroft administration is threatening to ban your work at school because of “inappropriate content” or “adult themes.” Write a formal, one-page letter to Mr. Cassidy explaining why your text should not be banned at Bancroft. Sample letter starter: “Dear Mr. Cassidy, It has come to my attention that…”
Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll in Learning Lab Method (LLM) on Thursday February 11, 2016 at 10:14AM
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Student-Led Conferences

On Friday, January 29, we will hold our annual Middle School Student-Led Conferences (SLCs). In contrast to our October parent/teacher conferences, when parents met with each child’s academic teacher, these 30-minute conferences are led by the student with the advisor and parent(s) present. Students will reflect about their strengths as learners across subject areas, as well as areas ripe for continued growth.

In the weeks leading up to the SLC, each child has been collecting a portfolio of work from across academic subjects that best represents their learning journey thus far. With help from their advisors, students will share what they’ve learned about their own learning style, what they are most proud of, and what they find challenging, as well as their goals for the remainder of the year.

We believe SLCs are a valuable component of our Middle School experience because they:

  • Allow students to take pride in, ownership of, and accountability for their own learning.
  • Address the student’s whole journey of learning, not just a final product, allowing us to take note of how much they have grown.
  • Give students insight about their individual learning styles by reflecting on their academic successes and areas for further growth.
  • Encourage students to honestly self-assess (and having examples of work to share facilitates that process).
  • Provide valuable practice with leading a meeting and public speaking.
  • Present a wonderful opportunity to set goals for the remainder of the school year and beyond.

While a Student-Led Conference serves many purposes, we realize that sometimes there are occasions when parents and teachers must have conversations without the student present. As always, advisors are available to talk with you about your children when you need us. 

Posted by Trevor O'Driscoll on Monday January 25, 2016 at 09:37AM
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